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Is Rachel Nichols The Beginning Of A Bloodbath At ESPN?

“There are options in house, but none of them give ESPN what Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal give TNT: iconic, generational talents both on the court and on TV.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Disney paid $1.4 billion for a nine-year extension to NBA television rights in 2016. Since then, the company has been trying to find ways to justify the price tag and shoe-horning the league everywhere it could.

There was a multi-million dollar interactive entertainment complex at Walt Disney World. Two weeks ago, the company announced it would closed after just seven months in operation.

Then there was the big swing that made a little more sense. ESPN wanted to program its NBA coverage the same way it did its NFL coverage. There would be a show on year-round regardless of whether or not the league was in season. There would be a huge team of former players and coaches and broadcasters to rotate through the studio, keeping perspectives fresh and coverage exciting.

That didn’t get the same quick hook, but with the recent announcement that Dave Roberts would be overseeing NBA production and last week’s decision to part ways with Rachel Nichols and call it a day on The Jump, it is clear that the ESPN is ready to acknowledge things aren’t going as planned.

Rachel Nichols has every right to be pissed about the way her time at ESPN ended. She was recorded in a private moment bitching about work. We all do that and we all say things in those moments we wouldn’t want to be made public. It is understandable to think she was done wrong.

Let me rephrase. She WAS done wrong. I am just not sure how much that recording and what she had to say about Maria Taylor is actually the reason she is out at ESPN. I think it is just convenient cover.

I used to say this all the time about pro teams hiring a new GM or collegiate athletics programs hiring a new AD: you don’t sign up to be the captain of the Death Star if they aren’t going to let you fire the big laser.

When you are put in a position to oversee every aspect of a product or a program, you want to make sure you have handpicked the people whose work will determine your success. Dave Roberts may not be a GM or an AD, but he is no different. If ESPN’s NBA coverage is Alderaan, then he is Grand Moff Tarkin giving the order to blow it to smithereens.

I have no inside knowledge. I am just using some common sense here. The exit of Maria Taylor was a sign of things to come. Rachel Nichols’s dismissal is the shot across the bow of a product that needs some kind of kick in the ass. There is a new sheriff in town, and if it takes a bloodbath to get the NBA right, then there is gonna be a bloodbath at ESPN.

Taylor is gone. Paul Pierce was let go midseason. That means the 2021-22 NBA season will again start with a shakeup for NBA Countdown. ESPN’s studio show has always played second-fiddle to what TNT has to offer on Thursday nights. It isn’t reasonable to think that a new host joining the existing cast will be the only change.

If I am Jalen Rose and/or Jay Williams, I am on the phone with my agent right now trying to get some answers. I am at least trying to get a meeting so I can try to determine for myself which way the wind is blowing.

ESPN has some really talented people in terms of NBA analysts. Rose and Williams are two of them. Kendrick Perkins, I think it is safe to say, has put the “rising star” moniker in his rearview. The guy is a star right now. Tim Legler is a commanding presence whenever he is on SportsCenter. Vince Carter proved very quickly to be a strong broadcaster. There are options in house, but none of them give ESPN what Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal give TNT: iconic, generational talents both on the court and on TV.

What are you going to do in the host’s chair? Malika Andrews is reportedly in-line for the role. Does that excite anyone? Stephen A. Smith, who Roberts is reportedly close with, has an idea for a new studio show that includes himself, Michael Wilbon, and Magic Johnson. Can you imagine how hard that would be to watch? Stephen A. Smith shouting strong opinions at two people with nothing to say back?

There are two things I want to make clear. First, I’ll reiterate that this is just speculation. I don’t have inside knowledge. I am a basketball fan with a little bit of insight to the people and decisions involved here. Next, I am a big fan of professional basketball. This is not some kind of fantasy built on any sort of anti-NBA agaenda.

When Disney signed that contract extension with the league in 2016, it tried to fit a square peg (NFL-style coverage) into a round hole (NBA consumption). Those of us that like the NBA do like to talk about it year round, but that discussion largely lives on Twitter and other social platforms. The NBA fanbase is younger, more diverse, and most importantly, smaller than the NFL fan base. It was never going to support a daily NBA debate show on traditional television like The Jump in a way that made ESPN suits look at it as a success. So it is time to re-think what we are doing here.

ESPN and ABC still have the NBA Finals. They will go back to presenting double-headers on Sundays in the upcoming season. There is a lot to work with in terms of play-by-play.

Maybe the pieces to make the studio programming work are already in house and they just need to be reconfigured. The reality, though, is they probably are not. That’s why Dave Roberts is in charge of the NBA now.

Photo by Joe Faraoni ESPN Images

Changing players is the first step. It is one ESPN has taken more than once before though, and the network is still playing catch-up. If your initial solution doesn’t fix the problem, what comes next?

It might be time to boot up that big laser.

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Day Spent With: ESPN Radio

“Every show that comes out has to hit our expectation to make sure we’re living up to the standard and what our audience is expecting.”

Derek Futterman

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Day Spent With – ESPN Radio

For our fifth Day Spent With feature, we sent Derek Futterman to Bristol, CT to learn what goes into a full day of programming at the ESPN Radio network. My thanks to Justin Craig and the entire management and on-air teams for making him feel welcome and providing full access to everything he needed.

If there’s one thing I love about Mr. Craig, and he was like this as a producer, he is always well prepared. In arranging the schedule for Derek’s visit, his entire day from 8am-6pm was accounted for. From meeting with the shows to PR to zoom calls with ESPN NY/ESPN LA to individual manager meetings, if there were issues to explore and people to meet, they were on his schedule. That type of detail is what sets great programmers apart. It’s why JC is one of the best.

Still planned for this series are days spent with sports television shows, a market manager, a social media manager, and a media buyer. We also left room for one additional project should something interesting come up. If you or your brand wish to be involved and have an idea you want to pitch, please email [email protected].

Now without further adieu, here’s Derek Futterman’s Day Spent With the ESPN Radio network.

– Jason Barrett

Some snow is still present on the ground at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, CT, slowly melting away after a Nor’easter recently blanketed 13 inches worth of flurries above the town. Aside from a more strenuous commute though, this doesn’t slow down anyone on the 120-acre campus the network has called home since 1979. Beyond the entry gates are two adjacent digital centers, each containing colossal television and video production facilities with state-of-the-art technology. In the distance is the ESPN teleport farm that communicates with satellites to distribute programs to several million homes around the world. There are also plenty of network interfaces around the campus capable of disseminating audiovisual content via digital channels.

On this particular morning, two control rooms are filled with producers, directors and coordinators operating First Take on ESPN and the UnSportsmanLike simulcast from ESPN Radio on ESPN2. There are also researchers and loggers monitoring the news cycle and compiling information for use across network properties, always ready to react to breaking news or haste developments.

Up the stairs on the second floor are studios used for award-winning television broadcast institutions, including Sunday NFL Countdown, Outside the Lines and the network’s flagship program, SportsCenter. The original desk, chairs and backdrop are on display in the building next door, accessible by a skybridge spanning over a heated outdoor patio.

The journey towards the ESPN Radio studios continues through several hallways adorned with production facilities, offices and sports memorabilia. Those inside the building complex have transformed and innovated sports media as we know it, seeking to live up to its mission statement and providing value to consumers and partners. Turn a corner and down a long hallway displays a sign with the ESPN Radio logo, identifying the primary location of the division that was first established in 1992.

The radio section of the building contains several studios and control rooms, many featuring radio boards and remotely-operated cameras. There are microphones outfitted with the ESPN Radio mic flag, the heralded letters carrying ethos and prestige serving as a reminder of its sublime history and ongoing journey.

Outside of the studio where the network launched Mike & Mike is the office of Justin Craig, senior director of network talk and operations responsible for overseeing the ESPN Radio vertical. Although his days include several meetings and managerial tasks, he has not lost sight of the formatics and fundamentals of radio broadcasting and connecting with listeners.

“Every show that comes out has to hit our expectation to make sure we’re living up to the standard of what our audience is expecting,” Craig said. “There is an expectation that we’re providing them the information that they need with the personality they expect.”

Craig occupies an office previously used by Stephen A. Smith with a clear view of the fight song corridor dedicated to college football. On the top of a writable wall, he has enumerated ‘relevancy, relatability, ratings/revenue and relationships,’ adding them all together to reach a summation equivalent to ‘results.’ All of these factors ascribe the audience, which patronizes the programming and offers feedback in the form of compliments, criticisms and suggestions.

“You have to make sure that you’re focused on putting content out there that is smart, curious and focused on making a person that’s listening want to listen longer,” Craig said. “I’m going to get my impressions and my audience to stick if I’m interesting, curious and if they can learn something along the way.”

A New Sound on ESPN Radio

The top right corner of the wall has the ESPN Radio lineup listed for reference, which was revamped last fall featuring a blend of established and new radio hosts. While the network opted to alter its complete programming slate, the move was necessitated by company layoffs and a deeper radio partnership with Good Karma Brands.

Morning radio co-hosts Keyshawn Johnson and Max Kellerman were affected by these layoffs, while co-host Jay Williams re-signed with the outlet but moved away from the weekday radio lineup. Evan Cohen, Michelle Smallmon and Chris Canty were installed into mornings, hosting the new simulcast program, UnSportsmanLike, commencing a new era for ESPN Radio and its affiliates.

Megan Judge, senior director of marketing and events for ESPN’s audio portfolio, explained that the hosts of the show have immense talent but are still becoming familiar to a national audience. As a result, the company has adopted a personality-driven approach to promote their content to consumers to help showcase the program. Judge is ultimately focused on demonstrating the value of being an ESPN Radio affiliate by leveraging their properties and personalities to help drive ratings and revenue growth.

“With UnSportsmanLike, we have the ingredients to bake an incredible cake,” Judge said. “Chris, Evan and Michelle are true professionals; they’re fantastic at what they do; their chemistry is great.”

Even though the program films at the ESPN South Seaport Studios in New York City while being produced in Bristol, the synergy between the crew is hardly inconspicuous. Show producer Nuno Teixeira is at the studio by 4am and listens to SportsCenter All Night in addition to sound from the night before. Before the start of the show, he brainstorms with his colleagues and amends the rundown that has been compiled from the prior day. The program then begins its four-hour foray with regular communication between the radio and television productions for the program.

As the show reaches its conclusion, associate producer Pat Costello and board operator JoVante Lawrence complete several tasks, including editing audio and uploading clips. Television producer Mark Morales takes the walk from the digital center to the radio facilities to participate in a brief post-show meeting before watching as the hosts record audio promos for the next day. Craig and other executives routinely offer assistance and suggestions for the programs – which also comes through weekly listening sessions with every show – but they ultimately trust their employees to execute the job for which they were hired.

“I do my best not to hover because you have to entrust upon them, but you’re educating across the way by listening, chiming in [and] by offering up feedback on a regular basis,” Craig said. “That’s why I so appreciate the listening sessions that we do for everyone to continue that bond and partnership with each and every person that we have here.”

Good Karma Brands and ESPN Radio

Cohen also works for Good Karma Brands as its vice president of content, responsible for interfacing with market managers and content directors to benefit fans, partners and teammates. The media conglomerate owns several ESPN-affiliated stations in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and West Palm Beach, possessing control over operations and content. The company also operates ESPN New York 98.7 under a local marketing agreement (LMA) and handles marketing and sales, responsibilities for which Cohen is not directly responsible. The New York and Los Angeles-based ESPN Radio affiliates continue to manage their own content after each lost its program directors – Ryan Hurley and Amanda Brown, respectively – during the aforementioned company layoffs.

ESPN New York is set to depart its 98.7 FM frequency that it has been leasing from Emmis Communications since 2012, a decision made by Good Karma Brands that will end the LMA. Data compiled by Good Karma Brands demonstrates that 60% of ESPN New York listenership occurs outside of terrestrial radio.

Although ESPN New York recently lost the New York Jets to Q104.3 and iHeartMedia, it has retained the MSG Radio Network consisting of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, focusing on digital distribution enabled through its last media rights extension. At the same time, the station’s programming will remain available on the 1050 AM frequency owned by Good Karma Brands, a refined proposition those at ESPN are preparing to actualize.

“I feel we’re just going to do the same content and our listeners will find us no matter where we are, but my challenges as a programmer may be different from those of a seller,” said Jonathan Winthrop, manager of audio operations at ESPN New York. “I don’t necessarily have to convince anyone other than the audience where we are. A seller may have to convince their current clients that nothing’s changing [and that] we’re going to do the same robust numbers regardless of where we’re putting our content out.”

Winthrop frequently meets with Craig to discuss the content and strategy, along with relaying information from Good Karma Brands. Additionally, he and Greg Bergman, manager of audio operations for ESPN LA 710, speak several times a week pertaining to the trajectory of the outlet. Bergman shared that he had constructive one-on-one meetings to help talent improve and expressed that the station is in its best place in years with everyone pulling in the same direction.

Last summer, Good Karma Brands assumed responsibility over operations and sales for ESPN Radio and the company’s podcast entities. Shortly thereafter, Good Karma Brands founder and chief executive officer Craig Karmazin and president Steve Politziner traveled to Bristol to meet ESPN staff. After the typical introductions and pleasantries, Karmazin asked a question and received a straightforward response from a member of ESPN that was largely expected.

“Craig just kind of paused and he said, ‘Is that a real no or is that an assumed no?,’” Judge recalled. “It’s a simple question, but it sort of put me back on my heels that I think with where audio falls in the priority list for ESPN and the day-to-day of being part of a really, really, really big organization, I think we had gotten into the habit of taking assumed no’s or sometimes not even asking the questions internally about, ‘Could we do this?,’ or, ‘What if we tried to make this happen?’”

Since partnering with Good Karma Brands, Judge has detected both a new energy and new sense of possibility within the building. While outside critics have argued previously that ESPN Radio was losing some of its luster, internal operations carried optimism and excitement surrounding the expansion of a decades-long business venture. Craig believes that the entity is consistently evolving and possesses cognizance over the importance of consumer accessibility.

“Find me a location that is exactly the same now as it was back then, and I’ll find you a product that’s having challenges,” Craig said. “I’m thrilled with the direction that we’re headed.”

The Daily Grind at ESPN Radio

The broadcast of UnSportsmanLike coincides with the national morning television program, Get Up!, hosted by Mike Greenberg emanating from New York City. Greenberg’s setup, however, is somewhat unconventional in that he immediately makes the transition from television to radio within one minute. Because of this expeditious turnaround, he communicates with producer Brendan ‘Bubba’ Peregrin throughout Get Up! to prepare for his radio program. Furthermore, program co-host Paul ‘Hembo’ Hembekides diligently monitors the news cycle from Seaport and safeguards against overlooking key developments.

“[Greenberg has] been doing this longer than anybody, so the challenge was figuring out how to get everything switched over at Seaport in that minute SportsCenter and show open, but a lot of the topics are the same,” said Liam Chapman, program director for weekday shows at ESPN Radio. “If it works on Get Up!, it will work on radio.”

Chapman has worked at ESPN for over two decades, during which he has produced Mike & Mike and overseen programs such as Bart & Hahn and The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. Today, he is responsible for network scheduling along with #Greeny, Carlin vs. Joe and Freddie and Harry. ESPN Radio does not receive PPM ratings until several months after a ratings book, but even so, he emphasized how the sample size is not ideal for the amount of people who have the meter. As a result, a lot of the evaluation of his program relies on other qualitative metrics that implement his avidity and ear for radio.

“We all learned from Bruce Gilbert about the personalities to bring in, so for me it’s basically, ‘How do I feel? How do the hosts feel? How does Justin and the rest of the management team feel and how does the production team feel?,’ and I think this is the best we’ve felt about a full lineup in a good number of years.”

Before the start of Carlin vs. Joe, Chapman takes part in a pre-show meeting with the hosts and producers of the program. Throughout the half-hour discussion, there are several ideas brought forth for consideration, including creating a list of what producer Evan Wilner would do for $600, inspired by former late-night host David Letterman.

About 20 minutes before the show, everyone checks the rundown and makes the necessary adjustments to the lineup. Of course, that does not predicate any potential news, something Wilner emphasized to his colleagues in the early days of the program. Being situated within ESPN on its Bristol campus has advantages in this regard that facilitates adapting to real-time developments.

“We might only have four minutes in a break, but we will figure out exactly how to re-route the entire plan if need be,” Fortenbaugh said. “It’s a very fluid show.”

Fortenbaugh is largely working from Bristol where he also appears on various television programs such as ESPN BET Live, First Take and SportsCenter. Conversely, Carlin hosts the program remotely, a pattern that continues down the rest of the lineup. All of the hosts outside of a typical studio setup, which includes both Amber Wilson and Ian Fitzsimmons on the evening program, have the necessary technology to work effectively.

Remote Events, Studio Operations and Production

Outside of its talk programming, ESPN Radio broadcasts approximately 270 live play-by-play events annually, such as out-of-market NFL games, MLB postseason play and several NBA matchups among other properties. With the sheer volume of obligations in this department, Pete Ciccone is working several months ahead of time to make sure things are set and always maintaining a broad perspective. As the program director of remote events, he schedules update anchors and monitors station operations while ensuring fans are properly informed so they can intuitively find the game.

“Not every sport is the same in terms of distribution,” Ciccone said. “Most of them, thankfully, are on hundreds of affiliates as well as SiriusXM and our ESPN app, but it’s not one size fits all.”

Tim Thomas is involved in shaping the network’s messaging in his role as production director. Throughout the day, he is fielding requests from ESPN Radio properties and creating show opens, rejoins and general station imaging. Cayman Kelly is the primary station voice and someone who Thomas works closely with. No piece of production usually exceeds a 30-second duration, something Thomas attributes to dwindling attention spans.

There is clear cohesion and collaboration taking place daily across departments to create informative and entertaining content. Most of the talent pre-pandemic were Bristol-based and in studio for interviews and appearances, a point to which Chapman believes the network has returned. Despite Harry Douglas hosting his afternoon radio program remotely, the technology in the studios minimized latency and permitted real-time interaction with on-site co-host Freddie Coleman.

Coleman welcomed ESPN betting analyst Erin Dolan to the Freddie and Harry show for an in-person interview, taking place shortly after she finished filming ESPN BET Live. Since the show has taken the air, Dolan, along with many other ESPN personalities, have been situated in the radio studios for guest spots and provide unique insights and perspectives on sports news. Show producer Shannon Penn has an outline of Dolan’s segment loaded into AP ENPS, which allows Coleman to reference it in real time and keep things on schedule.

“Even though Harry wasn’t there, the chemistry between Erin and Freddie was so good and the chemistry between Freddie and Harry is so good that it just makes for a better interview,” Chapman said. “All the interviews in studio just are better, and I think it’s because of the face-to-face.”

Weeknights and Weekends on ESPN Radio

The studios are situated in a central location on campus that provides ease of access to other areas around the network. Furthermore, there is updated technology and streaming functionality both for audio and video, positioning each for success.

The people within these studios, however, represent the engine that keeps the train moving forward at all hours of the day to provide over 9,000 hours of talk and event content every year. With affiliates around the country in most of the top marketplaces, it is imperative that the network recognizes the time difference and broadly appeals to the target audience. Continuing its content flow for weeknight shows – Amber & Ian, GameNight and SportsCenter All Night is Mike Urrunaga – who works hours outside of the standard 9 to 5.

Urrunaga frequently attends meetings in the late-morning before arriving on campus in the afternoon to meet with producers and monitor new developments. In addition to the fans, the weeknight programs are integral resources for the morning shows to utilize as they prepare to take the air at dawn.

“We’re very much trying to generate, ‘Okay, here are some topics that you would want to talk about that you can talk about,’” Urrunaga said. “We look at the rundowns that they have setup in the afternoon to be like, ‘Okay, is there something that they are looking at that we can add to depending on what’s going on in the evening?’”

Stosh Cienki, who is the program director of weekend shows for ESPN Radio, works to deepen listener relationships and progress conversations that took place during the weekdays. His work week begins on Wednesday and runs through late Sunday night. His responsibilities include listening sessions, scheduling, planning future events and of course, meetings. Along with his weekend duties, Cienki serves as a mentor to his colleagues, offering advice to streamline their development and processes.

“A lot of the producers we have here are young,” Cienki said. “As someone who’s been here as long as I have and having gone through many different shows, that’s an area where I probably have the biggest impact – just trying to develop guys who have only been here a year or two and show them the right way to prep and get ready for these things.”

Serving Sports Fans. Anytime. Anywhere.

At the end of the day, several ESPN Radio staffers drive across the street to a full-size gym owned by the network to participate in a company-wide volleyball league. The intramural offering is one of several during the year and something Craig found out ahead of last season. Having played volleyball in the past and being recruited by his colleagues, he decided to participate and has subsequently demonstrated his skills on the court. Stepping away from the speakers and connecting outside of the building ultimately fosters friendships and builds rapport, intangible features of the new lineup those at ESPN Radio hopes it is emitting to consumers.

“It’s cool because you want to have those outside-of-the-office activities that allow that camaraderie,” Craig said. “Talk about a culture – that’s where your culture is created.”

While the management team of ESPN Radio has a wide array of responsibilities, everything ultimately centers back to what Craig has prominently displayed in his office. In order to produce successful results, there is a harmonious consensus that relevancy, relatability, ratings/revenue and relationships are the means that comprise the whole.

This is put into effect through a strong workplace culture that promotes friendships, teamwork and a sense of belonging combined with discernible passion for the craft. Those involved in the ESPN Radio operation genuinely enjoy their occupation and look forward to connecting with listeners by remaining dedicated to the the company’s overarching objective, “Serving sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere.”

“Many hosts have said it over the years – this is the toy store of life – and I consider it the universal language,” Craig said. “Everybody speaks sports in some capacity, but it’s the relatability aspect that gets them to stick around and want to do more, but you have to create that culture within the building and have strong leaders in it that are willing to help everybody grow and succeed.”

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Undisputed on FS1 Needs Producers to Move the Show Along

The last piece of video involving Dallas that got this much attention was the Zapruder film.

John Molori

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Undisputed
Courtesy: FOX Sports

I have been looking forward to analyzing the program Undisputed on FS1 as show centerpiece Skip Bayless remains one of the most thought-provoking and eloquent personalities on television.

I tuned into the February 28 edition and was immediately taken with a spectacular show open featuring rapper Lil Wayne. The sequence is a colorful burst of images of palm trees, freeways, and the LA skyline. In a play on words with Bayless’s first name, the most telling lyric in the song is “Skip the BS.”

Skip Bayless deserves as much credit as anyone for bringing sports writers into the forefront on television. He was not the first scribe to make the leap to the small screen, but he might just be the best.

His vociferous style, strong opinions, and direct manner set the pace and blazed the trail for those to follow, including Stephen A. Smith, his former cohort on ESPN’s First Take. Smith, himself, often recognizes the impact that Bayless had on his meteoric rise in the business.

Bayless and Smith formed an unbelievable combination on First Take. Perhaps that is why it was so difficult for Max Kellerman to step into Bayless’s role upon his departure to FS1. It always seemed like Kellerman was trying to chase Bayless’s ghost with bold statements and hot takes.

Most famously, he made the 2016 statement that Tom Brady was about to fall off a cliff and become just another quarterback. That was the beginning of the Max Kellerman phenomenon, and in retrospect the end, as Brady went on to win three more Super Bowls in fantastic fashion.

Now on Undisputed, Bayless is joined by rotating cohosts Richard Sherman, Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson. Ironically, his former partner Shannon Sharpe now makes his TV home on First Take. On this program, Johnson joined Bayless in the lead story – Max Strus’s 59 foot buzzer beater that gave the Cavaliers a win over the Mavericks the night prior.

Johnson went into a very technical description of the different angles and aspects of the shot while video showed the shot repeatedly – 22 times in the first few minutes to be exact. Finally, they got away from that one shot, and Bayless talked a little bit about Strus’s overall end of game heroics. Strus outscored the entire Dallas team 15-9 with five three-point shots in the last 3:45 of the game.

At the top of the show, Bayless said that he could watch Strus’s game-winning shot 25 times, and I guess he was serious. More replays of the shot ensued as Johnson offered an analysis of the catch and shoot play in basketball.

As replay number 27 flashed on the screen, Bayless tried to tap into Johnson’s knowledge as a former NFL player asking him if he could remember a game when he was in a zone like Strus. Johnson replied only that he had a lot of them. Bayless persisted and Johnson finally remembered a 1998 game when he was playing for the Jets against the Dolphins.

The show was now 11 minutes old and still in discussion on the Strus shot, far too much time given to a February NBA game featuring two good but not great teams. Speaking of time, I feel like Bayless spends a lot of his time trying to bring something significant out of Johnson.

Bayless is always prepared, poised, and provocative. Johnson is appealing enough on television, but I view his TV work similar to his career as an NFL wide receiver – lots of talent and flashes of greatness but not in the caliber of contemporaries Terrell Owens or Randy Moss. Similarly on television, he is fun to watch at times, but not in the same category as Marcus Spears or Ryan Clark on First Take.

The comparisons to First Take are essential, not because of Bayless and Sharpe’s past history, but because they are similarly formatted sports debate shows in basically the same morning time slot. They are competitors, and it is fair to judge one against the other. As the Strus shot analysis on Undisputed moved past 15 minutes, I thought to myself that at least two or three different topics or angles would have been discussed on First Take in that time frame.

Again, this was an NBA game in February, not a playoff game or Finals game. Bayless made the point that this was an astounding performance for a role player like Strus. Johnson responded that Strus had never before been in a situation where he had to make so many treys at the end of the game.

Bayless astutely corrected him, making the point that Strus was 6 for 32 (19%) from the three-point line in the NBA Finals last year for Miami against the Denver Nuggets. The fact is that he had many opportunities to deliver IN big games, but simply did not do it.

As replay number 41 of the shot was fast approaching, Bayless showed past video of Strus hitting a game-winning three-quarter court shot for Lewis College. Johnson stated strongly that Strus definitely practices such long range shots.

Just minutes later, he contradicted his own technical analysis saying that such long shots are largely about luck. Johnson then brought up a Lakers player who got hot in the playoffs last year against Golden State but could not remember the name of the player.

This is Sports Talk 101. Don’t initiate a topic if you don’t know about whom you are talking. It is fine if your buddy at the bar can’t remember a name, but not a highly paid personality on a big time talk show. Johnson eventually threw out the last name Walker, but no first name. He was referring to Lonnie Walker who scored 15 fourth quarter points in last year’s Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Later, Bayless again tried to tap into Johnson’s knowledge asking if a role player in football can step in and have a huge game like Strus, noting that this would often happen with Bill Belichick’s Patriots’ teams.

Johnson barely let Bayless finish his thought, disagreeing with him and saying that Belichick had more established players. Bayless was correct however citing Jonas Gray who rushed for 199 yards against Indianapolis in 2016.

In truth, I like Johnson overall. He’s an engaging guy on the air. In fact, later in the program, he provided some really excellent and insightful commentary on Belichick and other topics.

Similarly, Bayless is a straight up legend, deserving of every bit of the fame he has earned on television. He is that guy, a true icon. In my opinion, it was just overkill on one topic, 42 replays and 22 minutes of commentary on the same shot in a Mavericks-Cavaliers game. The last piece of video involving Dallas that got this much attention was the Zapruder film.

Honestly, I put a lot of the blame on the show’s producers. A graphic on the bottom right of the screen showed the rundown of topics to be covered on this particular episode. It included the Cam Newton youth football scuffle, the Bears’ upcoming decision on Justin Fields vs. Caleb Williams, and an NFL Combine preview. From an editorial standpoint, all four of those topics should merit more time than the Strus shot.

Undisputed can be absolutely brilliant at times, but maybe it lacks what it once had. In the past, the likes of Joy Taylor, Jenny Taft, and Jen Hale played the Molly Qerim role on the show, moderating the discussion and moving from one topic to another. That’s what this specific episode needed. Someone to say, “Hey guys, the Strus shot was fantastic, but enough already. We want to hear what you have to say about these five or six other topics.”

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Businesses Need to Take Ted Turner’s Advice: “ADVERTISE”

Consider this: in the late 1970s, consumers were exposed to no more than 1,600 ads a day. Most estimates have our daily exposure to 6,000 to 10,000 per day now!

Jeff Caves

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Ted Turner picture and quote

During the early 18th century, Ben Franklin wrote some timeless advice: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Generally this guidance, selling hard work and time management, remains relevant for most employees today. However, in today’s business, where growth and profit depend on attracting new customers and employees, Franklin’s quote doesn’t stand up without including the word advertise.

Fast forward to the 1970s, when Media Mogul Ted Turner offered a new spin on success in American Business. The traditional slogan of “early to bed, early to rise” no longer guaranteed success in Turner’s eyes. While acknowledging the value of hard work and dedication, he recognized the evolving landscape of business demanded more. He added, “Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell and ADVERTISE.”

Turner’s autobiography, “Call Me Ted,” discusses his unconventional approach when he would advertise his television station WTBS (later renamed TBS). Facing a lack of viewers and businesses willing to advertise in the new cable television industry, Turner went on the offense. He bought billboards, typically monopolized by household marketers like Procter & Gamble and cigarette companies like Marlboro, to promote his television station. With bold messages like “Turner Broadcasting System—Nobody watches it, but everybody sees it!” he lit up awareness of his brand.

What Turner knew was that having a great product or service isn’t enough if it remains unknown. Overall, his trail-blazing marketing strategies and risk-taking give us invaluable lessons in navigating the competitive business landscape.

While hard work and sacrifice remain critical to success, Turner reminds us that hard work isn’t sufficient in today’s crowded marketplace. You must negotiate to advertise. In the late 1970s, consumers were exposed to no more than 1,600 ads a day. Most estimates have our daily exposure to 6,000 to 10,000 per day now! In this environment, waiting for recognition will stall, not grow your business.

Businesses must actively promote themselves to attract attention and seize opportunities. This is the era of consumerism and relentless advertising. Standing out from the crowd demands more than a good product; it requires effective marketing and promotion. It’s not merely about capturing attention; it’s about delivering on promises and being the apple of a consumer’s eye.

Turner’s philosophy advocates for a more extensive approach to success that combines hard work, innovative marketing, and delivering on promises made. In today’s business climate, being early to rise isn’t enough. ADVERTISE.

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