Fred Toucher: Deadspin Used To Be ‘A Thousand Times Better’
What Deadspin is now, which I have not looked at in years… [has] the general vibe [of] ‘You’re all evil, and you should be fired, and let someone who is poor have your job.’”
Toucher & Rich on The Sports Hub 98.5 WBZ-FM in Boston spoke about a recent article published by Deadspin headlined “So here’s one of the worst tweets of all time.” The article, written by former Chicago sports writer Sam Fels, centers around a tweet written by co-host of NBC’s Men In Blazers Roger Bennett.
Fels opines within the article about how he does not “subscribe to the well-held belief that Twitter is the ultimate cesspool of our society,” defining the user experience as something that is unique to each person every time they log on.
“…Every so often,” says Fels in the article, “it provides something so wholly bewildering that you really do have to question if it’s art or a vision into a plane/dimension where the rules are completely different.”
Additionally, Fels calls Men In Blazers solely a celebration of hosts Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, the latter of who authored the referenced tweet, and how they are unique for being fervent soccer aficionados in the United States.
“It’s just a half-hour of two guys saying, ‘We’re awesome because we’re soccer fans and we live in the States and you have to think we’re awesome, too!’ It’s two Brits patting all us ignorant Yanks on the head for being fans and sticking a gold star on our nose.”
Fred Toucher, co-host of Toucher & Rich, shared his thoughts on the direction Deadspin has gone in ever since former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan won $115 million in an invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker Media Group, the owner of the popular sports blog.
“The site was a thousand times better when [A.J. Daulerio] was the editor of it,” said Toucher. “What Deadspin is now, which I have not looked at in years… [has] the general vibe [of] ‘You’re all evil, and you should be fired, and let someone who is poor have your job.’”
As the article continues, Fels divulges why he considers the tweet sent out by Bennett to be foolish, especially with the advancements the sports media world have made in giving leagues the opportunity to disseminate their events and related pieces of content.
“Just to review, Roger Bennett — who apparently loves to read his own written words as much as he loves to hear his spoken ones — is claiming a show that has been on less than a year-and-a-half has done more for the popularity of an entire sport than… anything that has happened in the entire sport,” writes Fels. “Not various World Cup runs from either the USWNT or the USMNT, not a generation or two or three of people who grew up playing it becoming adults and watching it, not NBC making every game viewable for the first time, not the FIFA video game, none of it. A fictional show that’s been on 17 months…”
Sports media has certainly expanded its reach over the last decade, giving fans from all around the world opportunities to consume live sporting events. Toucher, in an apparent critique of Fels’ style of journalism, expressed that he was just seemingly stating the obvious.
“There’s a thousand more outlets now,” emphasized Toucher. “We have to look at it from a macro point of view. Good media journalism there. It’s a little bit easier to have soccer games on TV now given that there’s a trillion more platforms.”
Toucher continued by mentioning how soccer, while it attracts many kids who are looking to try sports, is ultimately boring and retains very few people over a long period of time. Among impassioned, zealous soccer fans though, the game engenders a tribalism communicated en masse, similar to how a television show attracts a subset of the population that becomes a fanbase who constantly talk about the show. Sure, it’s great for social media engagement and the spread of information, but it ultimately limits the audience to which the topic can be effectively marketed.
“These people — the Deadspin people — not only do they want you fired because of things that you’ve said,” expressed Toucher. “They rally around soccer, which makes me hate soccer even more. You’re watching television. You are not part of a scene. You are wearing a scarf that is sold by a manufacturer that manufactures these things… and sells them by the billions for… a markup. Let’s get over the fact that we’re so precious for liking soccer.”
Moreover, the sport, according to co-host Rich Shertenlieb, does not seem to have many marketable, recognizable American stars that someone could name if they were suddenly asked to do so on the street.
“I could ask ten people on the street [to] name one character from Ted Lasso,” said Shertenlieb. “I guarantee I get more people who know that than know one player on the U.S. Men’s National Team.”
The morning drive radio show concluded the discussion by hearing the perspective of a caller. He compared the tribalism associated with soccer to an underground rock band suddenly going national on a major platform such as MTV, helping it quickly garner worldwide acclaim.
“It’s so punk rock to like soccer,” said Toucher. “My daughter still plays soccer, and there’s nothing that is harder to sit through than one of the games.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Ryen Russillo: Media Will ‘Move The Goal Posts’ on Nikola Jokić When Denver Wins
“We all get it – we all have to figure out new ways to say stuff, but sometimes you’re just speechless.”
Nikola Jokić, better known to NBA fans as “the “Joker,” and the Denver Nuggets are two wins away from securing the franchise’s first ever NBA championship. The team has been at the center of debate across major sports networks over the last several weeks. Those in and around Denver believe the team has not received enough attention to this point, especially when having Jokić, a two-time league MVP and five-time All-Star selection. Now that the entire country is being exposed to the generational talent, along with venerable teammates Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are gaining notoriety many argue their play should have merited long ago.
Yet the fact that Denver is far from other major locales, along with the fact that the team has never previously won a championship, has ostensibly penalized the organization in terms of garnering coverage.
“I’m not going to name names on this one, but it was a colleague who said something [like], ‘I’m speechless after somebody did something amazing,’” recalled Ryen Russillo, podcast host and commentator for The Ringer. “And then another colleague [said], ‘It’s your job to not be speechless,’ and I thought, ‘Woah.’ That back-and-forth made the rounds. We all get it – we all have to figure out new ways to say stuff, but sometimes you’re just speechless.”
There are implicit rules to effective sports television according to Russillo, especially debate shows. One is to stick to what works and to talk about players who will move the needle. The most recent example that draws parallels to Jokić is with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and how he rapidly gained legitimacy and plaudits when he led the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA championship in 2021.
“If Denver ends up winning this thing, which I’d expect they will, all of a sudden the rules change,” Russillo said, “and we’re allowed to talk about [Jokić] in the way we always should have talked about him.”
Russillo previously hosted radio shows for ESPN. He and former NFL quarterback Danny Kannel hosted the Russillo Show together, but ended his time at ESPN hosting solo when Kannel was laid off. While he returned to the “Worldwide Leader” and ultimately co-hosted the SVP & Russillo podcast with Scott Van Pelt, he departed the company in August 2019 to join The Ringer. Russillo made remarks about his time with the company on a recent appearance with Bryan Curtis on The Press Box podcast.
“Especially when I worked at ESPN, I think half the time I was on the phone with NBA teams, it would be to hear them bitch about somebody else that said something at ESPN,” Russillo shared. “I’d remind them; I’d go, ‘Just so you know, I work with a lot of these people, and it’s hard to watch everything. I try to watch everything and it’s really hard. Just remember that not everybody up there that’s on TV is watching nearly as much [as] they may think they are.”
Both Russillo and Curtis know that if the Denver Nuggets are to win the NBA Finals, it will represent a “coronation” for Jokić to become a regular part of the vernacular. Russillo believes he will be legitimately considered as the best all-around player in the NBA, but stopping there will never be enough for shows based on attracting an audience.
“It’ll be, ‘Does he have a chance to be this?,’” Russillo surmised. “We move the goalposts on players… [and] you have to raise the stakes. Once everything becomes accepted, ‘accepted’ isn’t a good topic anymore. It has to be, ‘Could there potentially be pushback from this?,’ and that’s kind of the game.”
Skip Bayless: ‘I Get Cancelled Every Other Night on Twitter’
I keep arms length from Twitter, from the reactions. I tweet, but I don’t read.”
Skip Bayless has been in the sports media business for decades and he has gotten the chance to see firsthand how the industry has changed. When he started, there wasn’t much talk radio, no debate shows, and no internet for that matter.
On his podcast, The Skip Bayless Show, Bayless was asked by a fan in what ways has coverage of sports changed when he first started covering them to what it is today. He said he might someday write a book about that subject, but he thought back to a time when he covered the Dallas Cowboys and how easy it was to talk to players.
“When I first got into the sports media business, print dominated. Daily newspapers were king… When I first started covering the Dallas Cowboys (1979), I would go out to their practice field at lunchtime when the players were available and it was like I was entering a multiplex of theaters. I just had my pick. I could go to the Roger Staubach movie or the Charlie Walters movie or the Too Tall Jones movie or the Drew Pearson movie. I had movies to watch everywhere I wanted…I would fill my notebook every lunchtime.”
One of the things that made it easy for Bayless was that newspapers were a way for the athlete to control their message and the only outlet to get statements across.
“They were all happy to talk 1-on-1 as long as I wanted. If you wanted to meet them after practice, meet them at their house in the evening, they would do it because you were all they had as an outlet. If they wanted to make a statement, there was no Internet. They had to make the statement to you into your newspaper and hoped that you got it right and presented it the way they wanted it to. If they wanted to make a public image, it had to come through your feature story, your column that you wrote about them, you can make or break them through your coverage. They knew it and they catered to it. Those were some of the greatest lunchtimes in my life.
“Now of course, it’s about the Internet. Now players can control their message and carefully craft their image through the statements they post and the pictures that they post. Newspapers are a thing of the past. There’s still a place for newspapers and there’s still a place for reporting, but it’s not like it used to be.
When Bayless was a writer, he mentioned the amount of letters he would get on a daily basis and most of the messages he received back from readers were of a positive nature.
“I used to get 20-30 snail mail letters a week. I would get more than anyone else would because I was outspoken. I would answer everyone of them by hand.”
In this era of social media, Bayless knows the vitriol that he gets, whether it is from something he says on FS1’s Undisputed or his podcast. He doesn’t consume it all directly, but he knows about most of it.
“Now I’m told that I get cancelled every other night on Twitter. I’m told by my wife Ernestine who does monitor this that if I consumed all the evil aimed at me on various social media platforms. Sometimes she will read me some of them just for our amusement. If I actually allowed into my psyche all the misinformation, all the out-and-out lies she sometimes reads to me, if I let it all sink in, I’d wind up in a straightjacket on some funny farm somewhere and I don’t have plans to do that just yet. I keep arms length from Twitter, from the reactions. I tweet, but I don’t read. Someday I’ll write a book on all of the above because I’m just touching tips of the iceberg.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at RickJKeeler@gmail.com.
Doris Burke: Recent, Current Players Bring Valuable Perspective to Broadcasts
“I love that perspective, so what you do is unique and it’s special.”
The “new media” movement in the National Basketball Association isn’t all that new, as both former and current players are launching their own production companies and programs to more effectively disseminate messaging to consumers. JJ Redick, who retired from the NBA in 2021, established The Old Man and the Three podcast through his company, ThreeFourTwo Productions. He also continues to appear across ESPN programming and as a studio and game analyst for the NBA on ESPN, offering his analytical and esoteric perspectives.
Having athletes recently removed or continuing to play provides fans with a complete point of view about how the game has evolved and is played today. Redick and co-host Tommy Alter welcomed ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke to the latest episode of the show, and started their conversation by acknowledging something she and other colleagues have done while on the air.
“There have been numerous occasions where you and Mike [Breen], specifically, have talked about The Old Man and the Three on the broadcast,” Redick said. “Without question, every single time that it happens, we all kind of freak out and we’re shooting each other texts on the group chat. It does mean a lot to us that you guys recognize sort of what we’re doing here – and I don’t know if it was you or Mike – but I know one time, one of you called it a ‘therapy session.’”
Burke replied by conveying how essential it is that basketball coverage contains voices from different areas of the game. Being able to divulge how active participants view the game offers consumers unparalleled thoughts and opinions.
“I hear this in Jeff Van Gundy’s coverage of an NBA Finals where once or twice a game, something Jeff says can only be heard from somebody inside the game who’s actually been in that moment,” Burke said. “The beauty of you and Dryamond, and what you bring to the table as media personalities now… [is that] you understand the daily grind and the experience of these players.”
There are many factors with subtle connections to the sport an athlete must consider on a yearly basis, including whether or not to make the sacrifice of traveling without family or put in the physical and mental preparation necessary to perform. Burke expressed to Redick that although players probably try to project a different persona than how they feel on the inside, discerning the core perception is invaluable.
“I would assume you had moments when there’s crises of competence for you as a basketball player,” Burke said. “Those are really special to the viewers who happen to tune in to our coverage or listen to your pod, and I just love that dynamic.”
Burke is currently broadcasting the NBA Finals on ESPN Radio alongside Marc Kestecher, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and P.J. Carlesimo, and she is learning something new every time she takes the microphone. As Game 4 of the NBA Finals is set to tip off Friday night at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST, she knows to expect an intelligent, informed set of opinions and storytelling from her colleagues and does the best to bring it out individually as well.
“I’m sitting beside P.J. on these Finals games right now, and there’s just times in the middle of a broadcast; I’m hitting him [with], ‘Coach, would you lift Michael Porter Jr. from the starting lineup given that he’s struggling?,’” Burke said. “I love that perspective, so what you do is unique and it’s special.”