If you don’t live in Tampa, St. Petersburg or the surrounding area, chances are that you don’t have a particularly positive view of the Rays. Well, maybe you respect how much the organization has done with considerably fewer resources than division rivals in Boston and New York, but the stadium and its plethora of empty seats have almost certainly been the butt of your jokes before.
The Rays will open postseason play on Thursday. While the day will be filled with discussion of whether or not 2021 will be the year the team is more than just a feel good, “Little Engine That Could” story, that wasn’t what had Rays fans talking last week.
On September 25, the second-to-last Saturday of Major League Baseball’s regular season, the team’s president, Matt Silverman, went on WDAE and dropped a bomb on the fans. They already knew team ownership saw value in splitting the team’s home games between St. Petersburg and Montreal. Now, when the team may have the best shot to win a World Series that it ever has, they were going to rub the fans’ faces in it.
“We’re going to add a sign in the rightfield foul territory with a very simple Tampa Bay Montreal graphic,” Silverman said on his radio show This Week in Rays Baseball. “Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it. It will mark the effort subtly and keep the focus on winning.”
Remember, this is on the day the University of Florida beat rival Tennessee and Florida State lost to Louisville to fall to 0-4 for the first time in 47 years. The next day, the Buccaneers lost a game for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend. Still, on Monday morning, all Tampa Bay sports fans wanted to talk about was the disrespect shown to them by their own baseball team.
John Mamola is the program director of WDAE. He told me that the conversation started with his morning show and lasted all day long. The city was pissed. Frankly, I needed him to tell me why. I’m not a baseball fan at all, and even I know that attendance at Rays games is sparse to say the least.
“While the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been a great example as far as attendance in the last decade-plus, their radio and television numbers continue to be some of the best in all of MLB,” he explained. “The residents of this entire community care, and they understand the challenges of the current ballpark situation. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium discussion for many years now has overtaken the conversation of the actual team and the high level of play they’ve shown over the last 13 years, and I think that frustration from the fan base for the situation shows how much their fan base does care about the organization in the landscape of ‘Champa Bay.'”
When Silverman made his statement on Saturday, he didn’t have anything to show or post pictures of on the team’s social media accounts. He wasn’t even able to describe what the banner would look like. Maybe Silverman had a plan, but that is all it was.
The area’s sports fans didn’t care. To even bring up the Rays playing home games in Montreal on WDAE, the market’s only sports station and the team’s flagship station, was a slap in the face.
John Mamola was proud of his staff. “Our guys were insanely honest. They were not shy with their opinions,” he said. I asked him what messages he gave them going into Monday morning. He told me that he kept those conversations pretty straight forward. “It’s as simple as listen to what was said and understand the context before discussing, and then walk through it together.”
Plenty of stations brace themselves for a fight with a team partner. Some of those team partners can be very sensitive to criticism. After all, there is a written contract. The relationship is supposed to be mutually beneficial. Where is the benefit in letting hosts on the station where your games air rip you?
I mean, come on. The timing isn’t an accident. The announcement was made on a Saturday with the following week being Tom Brady’s return to New England.
Mamola says that is not the Rays he knows. As long as he has been at WDAE, the team has been pretty easy to work with. Monday’s shows were probably filled with a lot of criticism the Rays were hoping wouldn’t exist but he wasn’t driving to work planning to spend the day on the phone fighting with the team or even with his bosses at iHeartMedia.
“Our job is to spark opinion and conversation, their job is to win baseball games. Both sides want success for each other, and both sides work well with each other,” he said of the Rays. “We’ve been blessed to have great access within the organization to have some face to face meetings with as much transparency as possible with the upper management of the organization to get a better grasp on where they’re headed and take our questions and feedback. That’s the mark of a great partnership. With that, the organization knows that our talent will not make this a personal attack on anyone or anything within the organization but they also have an understanding that they are as open to criticism as anyone in Tampa Bay when it comes to our passionate hosts on WDAE which speak directly to the Tampa Bay sports fan and Tampa Bay Rays fan/consumer.”
That great partnership played a role in the conflict’s resolution. When Mamola called to tell me the story last week, he framed it as a story of how easy it can be to work through controversy when there isn’t an adversarial relationship between the team and its flagship.
By Tuesday night, Stu Sternberg was on the WDAE airwaves saying he was wrong. The team’s principle owner was on the pregame show ahead of what would eventually be a loss to the Houston Astros to address the plans to hang the “split city” banner and the reaction to the announcement.
“I absolutely should have known better and I’m sorry for that,” he said of Matt Silverman’s announcement. “I’m here to tell the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”
Now, this isn’t a movie. Sternberg didn’t announce that he had been wrong all along and finally understands the true meaning of Champa Bay. He still is planning to pursue that Split City plan when the Rays’ current lease runs out at Tropicana Field in 2028.
John Mamola is fine with that. Forty games in Tampa is better than zero games in Tampa.
“I can imagine that the Rays were preparing on their end for backlash to this plan, but we also have to have an open mind with this plan and not only read the headline. The Rays have made it very clear after many proposals simply have not worked out, that this split-city proposal (they feel) is their last shot at keeping baseball in Tampa Bay long term although on a short term per baseball season.”
So what about the games left in front of this team in 2021? The playoffs start later this week and for as long as they are alive, the Rays will have home field advantage against American League opponents.
WDAE is always invested in the team and rooting for their success. After being in the middle of a story about fandom and civic pride with the Rays, will Mamola put an added spotlight on their success this postseason?
He says no, because the station doesn’t need to. WDAE is the home of Rays and Lightning games and studio coverage of the Buccaneers. That gives them a powerful place in the minds and hearts of Tampa Bay sports fans. Ultimately, he says that is why he and his staff were the ones trusted to make a difference.
“If fans need a place to share their voice, there is only one choice in the megaphone of WDAE and over the past week or so that has only been re-enforced with the voice of the fan changing the narrative of the majority owner of that said baseball team, and thus receiving an apology from owner Stu Sternberg heard LIVE on WDAE and the Rays Radio Network. That’s the power of the fan, and shows that the fan still has a voice when it comes to their local sports franchises. I couldn’t be more proud of how WDAE helped shape the discussion both digitally and terrestrially and helped deliver the feedback of the fan directly to those within the organization helping alleviate a very difficult and emotional situation, albeit for only till the next time we discuss it.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
The Media Is Finally Strong Enough To Take On The Rose Bowl
“The whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.”
I am a sucker for packaging. Take me to a grocery store and show me a uniquely packaged sauce or condiment or waffle syrup and I’ll give it a try just based on bottle size or design. The one packaging ploy that has vexed me is the “biggie size” at the local drive through. I’m always interested in the largest drink possible but don’t necessarily want a grain silo full of fries passed through my window. The College Football Playoff is going “biggie sized” in 2024 and I’ll take all of that I can get.
The College Football Playoff Committee made official last week what had long been speculated, that the four-team playoff field would increase to 12 teams starting with the 2024 season. This was an inevitable move for money and access reasons. The power conferences and Notre Dame stand to gain significantly in TV revenue and the “non-power” conferences finally get the consistent access they have long craved.
What may have finally pushed the new playoff over the finish line was the end of an ultimate game of chicken between college football powers and the Rose Bowl.
There is a scene from the movie The Hunt for Red October when the rogue Russian nuclear submarine is trying to avoid a torpedo from another Russian submarine. The American captain, aptly played by Scott Glenn, tells Jack Ryan; “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”
The Rose Bowl finally flinched.
The only thing that delayed an earlier move to this new world was the insistence of the Rose Bowl Game to cling to the bygone era of the antiquated bowl system. Only in college football could an organization that runs a parade hold such outsized influence but, until recently, the Big Ten and PAC 12 gladly enabled their addiction to a specific television time slot.
Dan Wetzel is a Yahoo! Sports National Columnist, he also wrote the book Death to the BCS which laid out a very early argument for dumping the bowl system for a Playoff.
“The single hardest thing to explain to people is that the Rose Bowl and its obsession of having the sunset in the third quarter of its game was a serious impediment to a billion dollar playoff,” Wetzel wrote.
Wetzel makes the point that simply moving the game up one hour would’ve helped the playoff TV schedule immensely, “They were adamant that they get to have an exclusive window on New Year’s Day, the best time of all, not only would they not give that up but they wouldn’t even move it an hour earlier (to help Playoff television scheduling) because then the sun would set at halftime. It was so absurd but for a lot of years they got so much protection.”
We may never know what it was that finally forced the Rose Bowl to play ball with the rest of the college football world. There are many possibilities, not the least of which was the presence of SoFi Stadium just down the road. The College Football Playoff committee could have always taken the bold step of scheduling games at SoFi, in the Los Angeles market, opposite the Rose Bowl TV window to try to squeeze them out.
It is also possible the Rose Bowl scanned the landscape and realized that, if a 12-team playoff already existed, their 2023 game would’ve been Washington (10-2) versus Purdue (8-5). That shock of reality came with the understanding Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Utah and USC would enthusiastically choose a 12 team playoff bid over a Rose Bowl invite. That was the future the Rose Bowl faced with the departure of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten and the 12 team playoff gobbling up the top remaining PAC 12 teams.
I have proposed that theory to many people in the college football world and have received some version of this response from many of them: “They really wouldn’t care who is playing as long as they can still have their parade.”
That is one of the issues at play here; in many ways, the whole Rose Bowl organization is stuck in a black and white TV world. The future playoff is Marty McFly stepping out of a Delorean and the Rose Bowl is the Enchantment Under the Seas Dance.
One other possibility is that the television executives of the major networks, primarily FOX, may have put the pressure on the Big Ten and Pac 12 to have a little less interest in keeping college football stuck in the late 1970’s. It makes sense, FOX has nothing to gain by the Rose Bowl keeping influence. Fox may have everything to gain by getting a media rights cut of the future playoff. Many believe FOX was a driving force behind USC and UCLA bolting to the Big Ten. If that much is true, pressing for less Rose Bowl influence is child’s play.
No matter what was the catalyst to the expanded playoff, it worked and the fans benefited. College football is moving into a brave new world all because the college football powers finally stood up to the old man yelling at the clouds.
Turns out, it was all a game of chicken. And the Rose Bowl flinched.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Andrew Perloff Learned From The Master of Sports Radio on Television
“I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy.”
It’s a fact of life that not everybody loves their job. To have a job that you love and have fun at is pretty special. For Andrew Perloff, life is good.
“I’m just watching so much sports during the week,” said Perloff. “I don’t come up for air watching sports and I love that. And the fact that we get paid to sit on the couch for 72 hours…oh my God…it really is the best job in the world.”
That job is being the co-host of Maggie & Perloff weekdays from 3pm to 6pm eastern time on CBS Sports Radio and simulcast on CBS Sports Network. Perloff was an on-air personality on The Dan Patrick Show beginning in 2009 before making the switch to CBS Sports Radio for the new show with Maggie Gray that launched this past January.
And so far, the move has worked out.
“I’m really happy,” said Perloff. “I think I’m really lucky because I went from a really fun and supportive place in the Dan Patrick Show and have now transitioned into what I would also call a very fun and supportive place at CBS Sports Radio/Audacy. I miss the DP Show but I love my new co-workers. (Vice President of Programming) Spike Eskin and (New York Market President) Chris Oliviero have been great. We get a lot of support and a lot of help from those guys and they’ve made the transition so much easier.”
When a new radio program begins, chemistry between the hosts is vital to the success of the growth and success of the show. In the case of Maggie & Perloff, they had an existing friendship from their time working together at Sports Illustrated.
And that relationship is certainly evident to the listeners.
“I’m having a great time with Maggie,” said Perloff who was an editor and contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and SI.com. “We knew each other pretty well at Sports Illustrated. We’ve been friends for a while now. I have gotten to know her a lot better through the show. It took a couple of months to really find our rhythm and get the show to where we wanted to get it.”
There has been a fun and evolving dynamic to the on and off-air chemistry between the hosts. Perloff is from Philadelphia and a die-hard Eagles fan while Gray is a fan of the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles have the best record in the NFC at 11-1 while the Bills are among the best teams in the AFC at 9-3.
Perloff has come to understand just how much Gray loves the Bills and there is a chance that their two teams could meet come February 12th in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII.
“She’s a very passionate Buffalo Bills fan,” said Perloff. “I always knew that, but to actually sit there on a daily basis and see her sweat out every detail about the Buffalo Bills has been a lot of fun. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’re on a collision course for the Super Bowl and we’re already trying to figure out a Super Bowl bet.”
The easy wager to set up would involve food.
If the Bills win, Perloff would have to give Gray some Philly cheesesteaks.
If the Eagles win, Gray would have to furnish Perloff with some Buffalo Wings.
But it appears as if management wants there to be more at stake for the potential bet.
“Our boss wants us to do something more severe,” said Perloff. “The truth is I’m an Eagles fan so I’ve already won my Super Bowl. Maggie, on the other hand, has no idea what that feels like. I almost feel sorry for her because it’s tough being a Bills fan.
“We have a pretty big rivalry with our team because she’s a Mets fan and I’m a Phillies fan. We get along great expect for those areas.”
The Maggie & Perloff chemistry extends throughout the show and that includes producer Michael Samtur who has his own rooting interests.
Samtur is a fan of the New York Jets who are having a better-than-expected season.
“When the Jets win, I don’t want to see Mike on Monday mornings because he’s smiling so much,” said Perloff. “He’s an unbelievably cynical Jets fan…it’s hysterically funny.
“Mike is doing a great job. It’s really an all-hands-on deck show. I think we all sort of kind of wear each other’s hats at certain times.”
An added element to the show is that it is also simulcast on CBS Sports Network. If there’s one thing that Perloff learned from working with Dan Patrick — who also has a simulcast on television — is that the program is a radio show that just happens to have cameras in the studio. At the end of the day, it’s a radio show on television and not a television show on the radio.
“That’s also my philosophy,” said Perloff. “From a logistical standpoint, to do a good radio show you can’t really focus on the TV side of it. For us, the foundation of the base is to really focus on the radio show and the TV and video comes naturally after that.”
Perloff’s resume also includes writing and co-writing an assortment of magazine stories, books, and television shows while also hosting his own weekend show on NBC Sports Radio from 2016 to 2019. But it was working on The Dan Patrick Show where he learned an important aspect of being a talk show host that he continues to live by at CBS Sports Radio.
What he learned was that you just have to be yourself.
“Dan always wanted us to be authentic in the sense that don’t try to be someone you’re not,” said Perloff. “Don’t try to come up with hot takes just for the sake of hot takes. When you listen to Dan Patrick on the radio, you’re really hearing Dan. He’s not a radically different person off air.”
This is a huge time of the year for sports radio.
The NFL’s regular season is winding down and college football is heading towards bowl season and the College Football Playoff. Throw in the NBA, college basketball, NHL, and the World Cup and there’s so much going on in the sports world to talk about.
Perloff can’t get enough of it.
“I love it so much,” said Perloff. “College football is just huge right now. When we bring up a college football story, the phone lines just light up which I think is a reflection of the growing interest in that sport. This is the best time of the year. It’s incredible.”
As Maggie & Perloff head towards their first anniversary on the air, there are goals and expectations heading into 2023. The show has grown tremendously over the course of the first year and while that may have occurred faster than expected, the hope is that the trend continues.
“I’ve been a little surprised by how fast the audience has grown and our connection with the audience,” said Perloff. “One of the great things about The Dan Patrick Show was the community feel with the show and all of the listeners. That’s definitely growing with us and I’d like to see that really take off next year. It makes it so much more fun when you’re doing the show and everybody is along for the ride.”
It’s been a great ride so far and it should be interesting to see what happens if that ride includes an Andrew Perloff vs Maggie Gray Super Bowl matchup in February. It’s not even because the breakdown of Eagles vs Bills would be fascinating but the audience wants more.
That Super Bowl bet would certainly be intriguing.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.