October should be renamed ‘Bucktober,’ as in veteran Fox broadcaster Joe Buck. He owns this month more than any other play-by-play announcer in America. Chances are pretty good that if you are watching a sporting event in the 10th month of the year, you’ll hear Buck on the call. The travel and transitioning from one sport to another, sometimes in a day is not easy.
Here’s a rough outline of what Buck will call in the next few weeks. He will have weeks where he’ll call two football games in the same week, a Thursday night and a Sunday afternoon game. This is a grueling schedule for anyone.
10/07/21 – Seattle (Seahawks/Rams)
10/10/21 – Dallas (Cowboys/Giants)
10/14/21 – Philadelphia (Eagles/Buccaneers)
10/15/21 – Houston (Astros/Red Sox) Game 1 ALCS
10/16/21 – Houston (Astros/Red Sox) Game 2 ALCS
10/18/21 – Boston (Red Sox/Astros) Game 3 ALCS
10/19/21 – Boston (Red Sox/Astros) Game 4 ALCS
10/20/21 – Boston (Red Sox/Astros) Game 5 ALCS (if necessary)
10/21/21 – Cleveland (Browns/Broncos)
10/22/21 – Houston (Astros/Red Sox) Game 6 ALCS (if necessary)
10/23/21 – Houston (Astros/Red Sox) Game 7 ALCS (if necessary)
10/26, 27, 29, 30, 31/21 – World Series Games 1-5
10/31/21 – NFL Week 8 Assignment
By my unofficial count, math was never a strong point for me, Joe Buck will call 17 different events in 24 days and visit 9 cities this month. How do you pack for a trip, or trips like these? Sometimes you wake up and aren’t sure what city you’re even in after all of that flying.
It’s happened to me on much shorter trips. 3 city trips in baseball done in 11 days had some going to the hotel room number they left in Cincinnati instead of the one they need in Pittsburgh. The road can do that to your brain at times. Again, that doesn’t compare to what Buck is doing.
Protecting one’s voice is paramount for play-by-play broadcasters. Your voice is your instrument and it must be cared for properly. A schedule like Buck’s is going to put a ton of stress on his voice. How will he handle it? Buck recently spoke to InsideHook to answer that question.
“I try not to drink as much or at all during October because it feels like I’m flying every night,” the 52-year-old Buck said. “I’m going pretty much nonstop so I’ve got to try to get as much sleep and rest as I can. Drinking and staying up late and the like is kind of out of the window. I have to be smart about it, especially the older I get.”
Joe Buck says he inherited a gene from his late father, Jack. The soup gene as he calls it.
“I remember my dad always ordering soup, and I would say I’m a soup connoisseur at this point of my career. That warmth is comforting to me, especially in the month of October,” he told InsideHook. “You can usually get back to whatever hotel you’re staying in and they’ll have soup left to scrape off the bottom of the pot they have down in the kitchen. If it’s hot, I’ll eat cream of anything. I’ll take whatever the hell I can get. Even if involves a vegetable I don’t like. I don’t even care how it tastes. Sometimes you’re just at the mercy of what they have.”
The hectic schedule can sometimes cause him to be away from his broadcast partners for longer periods of time than he’d like. Troy Aikman and John Smoltz though make it easy on him. He told the Just Getting Started with Rich Eisen podcast last month, just how that works and how the guys treat him when he gets back.
“I know that if I’ve been gone from Troy and I walk in and I do a Thursday game and I’ve been doing Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday baseball, he’s ready to go and he knows I’m ready to go. I can lean on him a little bit that week. Then, I come back to baseball, and either I’m tired leading into the game. If I’m trying to scramble and get ready, I can lean on John on the baseball side. That personal relationship that I have with both guys is what makes that month not only work, but fun.”
Handling multiple sports in a short period of time can really cut into your prep time. This would cause some broadcasters a little anxiety. I include myself in this category. Prep is what we have to make us feel confident about the broadcast we’re about to do. If I had to go into a game with less prep than I felt I needed, it could be a struggle to make that game sound good in my ears. So, Buck has a plan of attack to combat the fears of not being ready. He recently told Forbes about his routine.
He told the magazine that he carries an Excel sheet of his October schedule with him. He’ll create sheets for his NFL broadcasts ahead of time with basic information on each team’s players: name, number, height, weight, college, years in the NFL, and how they were acquired. According to Forbes, Joe Buck reads as much as he can and will constantly jot down relevant notes and tidbits as game day approaches.
Baseball presents some different issues. It’s much more of an immediate sport and the need for lineups, which usually aren’t ready until you get to the park, can hamper pre-arrival prep. Buck comes prepared with his scorebook filled out as best as he can, but with more games in a shorter time period, especially compared to football, “it’s kind of a mad dash to first pitch for me.” Buck told Forbes.
“I plan ahead on football, but baseball is a little bit more day to day, almost like cramming for a test in high school or college—and I was pretty good at doing that and then having the information just poof out of my head,” Buck said. “I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing and that’s how I go about tackling the month.”
Love him or not, there are two things Buck always is: professional and prepared. It’s illustrated in how he attacks this month. He knows that nobody feels sorry for him. In fact, there are a lot of us that would line up to do it if he wanted to let go of some responsibilities. The point is not to illustrate that Joe Buck is some kind of superhero of broadcasting. The point is to let fellow broadcasters and fans alike understand how unusual this situation is and how well Buck handles things.
The challenge could be too enormous for some, but not for Buck. He’s learned how to approach the schedule over the years and has a very practical outlook on October.
“It gets a little crazy, but it’s just that one month that kind of defines my year.”
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different
I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.
With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?
I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?
Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.
It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.
A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?
Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?
Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.
It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.
Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”
The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.
It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.
Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.
Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.
Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.
One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?
That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years
Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.
In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.
It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.
“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”
I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.
The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).
The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.
The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.
I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.
Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.
ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.
The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media
Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.