Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. If you’re a fan of Garth Brooks, you instantly recognize those lyrics from the song that hit No. 1 on the country music charts in 1991. The saying can mean different things for different people, but to Greg McElroy it signifies one of the best things that’s ever happened in his life.
It’s funny to think how much that saying can resonate with someone who won a state championship in high school at Southlake Carroll in north Texas, an SEC and National Championship at Alabama and then enjoyed a multi-year career in the NFL, where he left the league on his own accord. But if you knew how much he wanted the after his final season at Alabama in 2010, you’d understand.
The Campbell Trophy is essentially the academic Heisman in college football. It probably wouldn’t do much for his legacy as a quarterback at Alabama, but McElroy worked hard and really wanted to win the award. But his prayers weren’t unanswered. Instead, the trophy went to Sam Acho of Texas.
“I was very upset about it,” McElroy said. “But it led to me attending a cocktail hour after the ceremony where I spent time with Lee Fitting, Michael Fountain, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler.”
Greg McElory was surrounded by four ESPN college football brains who shared a great idea. Since Auburn and Oregon were set to play for the national championship in just a matter of days, they’d have McElroy on for a day. He had just played in an epic game against the Tigers in the Iron Bowl. Granted, McElroy was training for his upcoming NFL career in California, but he agreed to travel to Phoenix for a day to assist with college football coverage. He had no idea what it would turn into.
That day, you could see McElroy’s natural abilities as a broadcaster. So much so, that ESPN made sure that he wanted to pursue an NFL career instead of a path in broadcasting. McElroy was sure about his decision. The opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL was too good to pass up.
“I said, yeah, I want to pursue the NFL to at least scratch that itch,” McElroy said. “But it was at that moment where I thought to myself, wow, that was really fun talking about football. I’m talking about teams that I’m familiar with and I really enjoyed it. That was the moment I said, man, this might be something I would consider.”
It was the first time Greg McElroy had ever considered a career in broadcasting. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Fast forward to early 2014 and McElroy had just finished his third year in the NFL. He played his first two seasons with the New York Jets and just completed a season with the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of the practice squad. He still loved playing quarterback but a big decision loomed for him that would significantly impact his future.
The SEC Network was set to launch and McElroy was offered a chance to be a part of it. It was three years since he first realized sports media was an avenue he wanted to pursue, and being a part of a network launch was a tempting enough opportunity to leave football for. Ultimately he decided to retire from the NFL.
“Once I got my pension, I said all right, I’m done,” McElroy said. “I can grind out three or four more years or I can go do something and get started on a career that I can do for the next 30. It was a pretty easy choice for me, especially knowing that the SEC Network was getting ready to launch.”
So there he was walking away from football, with the exclusive reason of chasing an opportunity in sports media. But it wasn’t a quick or an easy decision for McElroy. In fact, it meant phone calls to Mike Slive, who was the SEC commissioner at the time, to discuss the network’s launch.
“It really came down to a conversation I had with Mike Slive,” McElroy said. “There had been other conference networks but I wasn’t sure. It was kind of a leap of faith. It was March of 2014 and he was at the SEC Basketball Tournament. I called him and I told him what I was thinking and really was asking him if the SEC Network was going to be successful. He said, ‘Greg, I promise you we’re going to do everything in our power from a conference office standpoint to make sure that this is not just successful, but the most successful launch in the history of network launches.’ And my goodness he was right. It was the best decision I ever made. I haven’t second-guessed it for a second. I’m so grateful to him for being so honest with me.”
It didn’t take long for McElroy’s career to take off. Almost instantaneously, the SEC Network was a success and he was a part of it. If you look at the talent that began at the network, it’s no surprise as to why. McElroy was surrounded by talent, with faces such as Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow and Maria Taylor.
“We had a really good group,” McElroy said. “One person I give a lot of credit to is Stephanie Druley, because of her eye for talent. What’s really great about it is everyone brought each other along. We were all very supportive, everyone was new in the industry so we were all about learning and attacking it to make it awesome. We had resources and unbelievable producers behind the scenes and it just made our lives really easy. I was told, at least by people in the industry, where you start is really what’s going to determine how you end up doing. If you’re surrounded by really good people in the beginning, you learn good habits and you learn what you’re doing, you’re likely going to have a lot of success. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have been surrounded by the people I was around.”
McElroy quickly excelled at the SEC Network and showed what everyone already knew: He was made for the business. Soon after, he was dipping into sports radio as a host on SiriusXM. Now, McElroy is an analyst for ABC/ESPN college football games on Saturday. He’s also the co-host of McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham.
Initially, McElroy may have believed his path in sports media was going to be exclusively on the TV side. But he found out he’s equally as talented as a radio host. So when it came time for JOX to replace their morning show, McElroy’s history at Alabama, combined with his abilities in sports radio made him an obvious match. It was a job he loved in a city he loved. He couldn’t turn it down for many reasons, but one important factor made the move a no-brainer.
“The biggest factor was the co-host,” McElroy said. “Cole Cubelic is a guy I have so much respect for. We almost get to the point where we compete as to who watches more tape and who’s more prepared. That’s what you want, at least, that’s what I want, a partner that I know I can’t just roll out of bed and do a show. I’m going to have to be prepared. Because if I don’t I could get embarrassed. That makes me better, that makes him better and that makes the show better.”
The second thing that made morning drive on JOX attractive was the ability to be nation-wide. McElroy quickly realized the reach the station has with the apps that bring content to football fans all over the globe. Third, was the opportunity to be a part of an extremely well-resourced team with a track record of success.
“College football is my biggest passion,” McElroy said. “I still think that the college football audience is really underserved. I’ve always felt that. I feel like there’s a thirst for college football that’s unquenchable and you’re not going to get it very many places. I feel like Cole and I can deliver a show that will be appetizing, not to just the SEC football fan, or for the Alabama or Auburn fan, but for a football fan that’s passionate about Michigan State, or a football fan who is passionate about South Carolina or even West Coast football. It doesn’t really matter, we’re going to hit at all.”
It makes sense that the guy who played quarterback at the dominant program in college football would want an opportunity to do radio at arguably the most dominant station in the Southeast. McElroy and Cubelic bring the former player side of things to the radio, but are also extremely polished in how they carry a radio show. It works. And it will continue to work for a long time.
“When I worked at SiriusXM I had great partners, like Taylor Zarzour who was awesome and I loved Danny Kannell. But when those guys were out, I’d always tell my program director to get Cole Cubelic or Tom Luginbill. It’s good because we see the game so differently. That’s what’s been so fun for me, because I’m learning something every day. When we watch film all he’s watching is the offensive line. I never watch the offensive line. My eyes gravitate to the secondary and the wide receivers and the quarterback, etc. I see it all-22 big picture and he really lives in the trenches. That’s a really good balance for us. While some people will naturally look at our allegiance with Alabama and Auburn and say, oh, that’s where they disagree, no, the way we disagree is actually literally on everything. The way we see the game is totally opposite.”
If not for the unanswered prayer of winning the Campbell Trophy, would McElroy be the media star he is today? Who knows. But there’s no doubt it put him in a position to have success after the contacts he made that evening. JOX knocked it out of the park with the pairing in the morning, but their minds are set on even bigger things in the future.
“I love the growth potential here,” said McElroy. “There’s no secret, we’re proud of where we’re at right now, but Cole and I both, and our program director Ryan Haney, we fully expect this to be the start not the end. We’re just getting started. At some point we want this to be a visual platform and we want to be accessible to people all throughout the country and that’s my plan for the show. I feel like this is the best place to try and take it to the next level.”
Fair and Balanced Audio Research – Finally!
“Looking at audio research from something other than AM/FM radio’s exclusive perspective is excellent for transparency.”
Recently, Cumulus Media introduced the Audio Active Group (AAG), an audio media and creative advisory group for marketers and agencies. Pierre Bouvard, the Chief Insights Officer of Cumulus Media/Westwood One, leads this sponsor-focused research and insights team. They are aiming to provide comprehensive marketing insights. The Audio Active Group will partner with clients to measure the impact of the entire audio campaign, specializing in the following areas: Audio creative, media planning, budget allocation within audio, and measurement of the whole audio spend.
Sounds good to me. Looking at audio research from something other than AM/FM radio’s exclusive perspective is excellent for transparency. AAG uses Edison Research’s “ Share of Ear” Report, Nielsen’s Nationwide, and the Scarborough Podcast Buying Power Study data. I looked into the AAG Audio Media Planning guide and pulled out the following nuggets that could help any sports radio seller:
Don’t listen to “everybody listens to pandora” nonsense. AM/FM radio is 13 times larger than Pandora and 19 times larger than Spotify.
Sell more than drive time. Only 40% of U.S. AM/FM radio listening occurs during mornings and afternoon drive times, and 60% of U.S. AM/FM radio listening occurs outside drive times.
Men listen more. Overall, AM/FM radio listening is more male (53%) than female (47%).
You can reach plenty of listeners via podcast. Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2021 study said podcasts generate 41% reach each month.
Remember to schedule wisely. At a minimum, you need to generate 200 GRPs monthly to reach half the market of, say Men 25-54. That’s a lot of spots on sports radio stations that are in the .3-.5 average rating range. Use the other stations in your cluster and add those classic rock and news/talk numbers for a balanced buy at a minimum. Think of selling 50 spots a week, not 15!
Sports radio listeners aren’t in the AARP. While we aren’t a Rhythmic CHR station ( 35 years old average age), at least we aren’t ALL NEWS (59 years old average age). Sports is a respectable 49-year-old average age listener. And, on average, we are younger than Classic Hits (53) or Classic Rock(51)! Damn, though, with no 18-34-year-olds, the future worries me.
ALL SPORTS reaches 6% of all Adults 18+, is 76% Male vs. 24% Female listenership, 34% of us have kids, and we have three people on average living at home. So 2/3 of us have no kids, and we still have 3 in the house?
ALL SPORTS folks are average when fundraising, belonging to charitable organizations and buying green products. I never thought sports radio was an excellent place for many philanthropic causes that weren’t sports-oriented.
Sports podcasts are solid. The only genre of podcasts that reach more than 18+ Adults is, in order, Comedy, News, Society/Culture, and True Crime. Our own Seth Everett even thinks interviews are better on podcasts than radio.
Almost 70% of sports podcast listeners will tune in to a comedy or news podcast as well. 82% of Government podcast listeners go to sports podcasts. May we be listening to Government in Sports pods soon? NFL relocation anybody? Zzzzzzzzzz.
Lastly, I will follow up on this, remember to schedule smart, buy reach, and don’t hammer a nail. Erwin Ephron is considered the father of modern media planning. He said, “most advertising usually works by reminding people about brands they know when they happen to need that product. Ads work best when the consumer is ready to buy. Remind the many. Don’t lecture the few.”
The Shop Isn’t Special Without LeBron James
“With no insight as to just how busy LeBron is, it is more important to say that the Shop should not do shows without him than to govern how much or how little he should work.”
As NBA training camp is in full swing, the demands of 37-year-old LeBron James are quite high. Still, if he cannot be on his HBO show The Shop, then they shouldn’t film it without him.
That is not to say that the show is not watchable without him. However, the key topics brought up in recent episodes would make a viewer wonder what James thinks about it.
Season 4 premiered on May 28, 2021, and James participated in that episode. Since then, the Shop has released 3 other episodes towards the end of June, July, August, and September. James has missed all three.
A case in point is the most recent episode. Tennis great Naomi Osaka is talking about her career, and producer Maverick Carter is asking solid follow-up questions.
Osaka is a champion going through a personal challenge in dealing with her fame and the pressure that comes along with it. The moment that this show can become super is to have James equate it to his career. What was his mindset when he went through something similar? No one on the current panel could equate exactly with the level of Osaka than LeBron.
“I was really lucky to have Kobe [Bryant] as my mentor and I really loved everything that he passed down to me,” she said on the show, which premiered on October 1st. “I always feel like if there was a younger player that ever needed any advice from me, I would love to give it. If I were to retire from tennis,” she said.
None of the other panelists, including Cavs forward Kevin Love, could ask the kind of question that LeBron James could.
“I would want people to remember me like how I acted toward people and how I interacted. For example, Serena? Her legacy is more than being Serena,” Osaka added. “I started playing because of her, I’m sure there’s so many girls that started playing because of her. Like, she literally built champions. And I think passing it down is how the new generation gets inspired.”
How does LeBron James feel about the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan? This show is made for those kinds of conversations.
Similarly, the June 25th 2nd episode featured another athlete in the conversation for the greatest of all time, Tom Brady. James missed that show, and while the conversation was compelling, James’ absence spoke loudest.
This is not the fault of any of the other panelists, or the show’s co-creator, Maverick Carter. There is no issue with Carter being on the show, and he adds a perspective from his career that is welcomed.
Still, he knows as well as anyone, that he can’t replace LeBron, nor should he be asked to.
Carter is a longtime friend of James and is a partner in Springhill Entertainment, which is instrumental in most if not all of James’ media exploits.
I recently wrote a column about today’s athletes making so much money during their careers, that they don’t NEED to honor broadcasting commitments. Paul Pierce and Chris Webber were examples of guys who left broadcasting gigs and it did not make a dent in their wallets.
It’s easy to make the same insinuation with LeBron. However, seeing him recently on the ESPN ManningCast of Monday Night Football made me realize how much I enjoy his insight. I find the guy fascinating, and while I do not always agree with his stance, I certainly respect the perspective he offers.
Springhill Entertainment has a contract to make The Shop. It begs me to wonder whether or not they can alter their production schedule to include James. The show needs it that much.
With no insight as to just how busy LeBron is, it is more important to say that the Shop should not do shows without him than to govern how much or how little he should work.
In the recent Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, it was fascinating to see how much time went into making Space Jam in 1996. When did LeBron film Space Jam 2? Or Trainwreck? Does he have time for all these media projects?
Ever since FOX News’ Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” I’ve paid particular attention to athletes having a proper voice on issues they are passionate about. The Showtime documentary Shut Up and Dribble focused on the history of the NBA and activism. That contact is fascinating, and the hope is that The Shop can continue to be that high-quality programming.
My favorite LeBron James story involves the Cartoon Network and the show Teen Titans Go! During the 2015 NBA Finals, after a Lebron-lead Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Golden State Warriors (Golden State won that series 4 games to 2), LeBron James tweeted something to the effect that he was celebrating a big Cavs win by watching a marathon of Teen Titans Go! Episodes.
The creators of the show were amazed that the superstar watched their show. They offered to write a LeBron-centric episode if he would voice it. Fast forward a year or so, and the episode “The Cruel Giggling Ghoul” was born.
In it, the Teen Titans visit a basketball camp that LeBron is hosting. He helps them fight crime, albeit obeying two rules.
He could not walk anywhere without dribbling the ball (that would be traveling) and every time he dribbled he said, “dribble dribble dribble dribble.”
My two children were both under 10 at the time. To this day, they have never seen a game LeBron James has played in. Yet, if I asked either one of them who their favorite basketball player is, they unquestionably tell me it is LeBron James.
The value of LeBron James’ voice should never be undervalued. This is why, if HBO and HBO Max are airing The Shop, Lebron James has to be in a chair getting a shave. Make it work with his schedule and do not do the show otherwise.
Media Noise – Episode 47
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