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Logan Swaim is Cranking Up The Volume

“We’re moving in the direction of an ‘always on’ content network – where you can watch our talent on essentially every platform.”

Derek Futterman

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Logan Swaim has seen the media industry evolve since he began working in it during the early 2000s. He has served in a variety of roles with several prominent brands that led to him becoming the director of content at Colin Cowherd’s digital podcast network The Volume.

Swaim worked as the executive producer of Good Morning Football on NFL Network, and got his start on the digital side of media working as an executive producer at DAZN. Swaim also produced the NBC Sports series Heart of a Champion with Lauren Thompson, which showcased athletes overcoming hardships to achieve moments of grandeur and contentment, along with the UNINTERRUPTED digital series Mr. Impossible with Matt Liston and CBS series Game Changers, which was hosted by Kevin Frazier for the three seasons it ran from 2013 to 2016.

Swaim has adapted with the changing industry since he received his degree, especially over the last few years emblazoned by a devastating global pandemic and has become instrumental in paving sports media’s path going forward. Since last January, he has helped build and maintain an eclectic podcasting lineup featuring network founder Cowherd, comedian Alex Monaco, former WWE television host Renée Paquette and basketball social media influencers LaJethro Jenkins and Dragonfly Jonez.

Additionally, the network has brought on both former and current professional athletes as show hosts, including Draymond Green and Aqib Talib. The Volume was also one of the first national groups to sign college athletes to NIL deals once the NCAA amended its rules, inking four Notre Dame football players to host their own podcast Inside the Garage, along with 2021 Heisman Trophy winner and Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young hosting his own podcast called The Bryce Young Podcast.

It is always important to continue to learn about the industry. That’s a seminal reason why Swaim is set to attend his first Barrett Sports Media Summit next week in New York City. He will participate in the panel “Planting Your Flag In a Digital World,” in which he will discuss his view of digital media’s evolution up to now and where he sees it going in the future. Joining him on stage will be Blue Wire Podcasts CEO Kevin Jokes and Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio Carl Scott.

Ahead of this imminent, long-overdue gathering of media professionals, I caught up with Logan Swaim to discuss his time at The Volume thus far, what it is like working alongside Colin Cowherd and the evolution of podcasting in the 21st century.

Derek Futterman: How does your role at The Volume differ from roles you have had in the past?

Logan Swaim: My previous roles have focused on developing one show and its audience at a time. My role with The Volume is helping develop an entire company. Thankfully we have a visionary leader in Colin [Cowherd], amazing and supportive partners at iHeart and FanDuel, a killer team and a killer product. Interesting people say interesting things about sports.

DF: How do you evaluate talent? How has the way you evaluate talent changed since you began?

LS: Every decision begins with Colin and from our ethos of ‘same sports, different angles.’ We look for big thinkers and unique opinionists who are covering sports in a different way – like Colin has throughout his career.

Like Colin, Jenkins and Jonez use real-life analogies to help connect with the audience. They had a take last year about what Kyrie Irving needing a mental reset [would] lead to him playing better – [which] it did  – and compared him to employees going on vacation and coming back recharged at the office. That’s as informative as it is entertaining. Like Colin, Renée Paquette is fearless and can engage with guests who might make other podcasters uncomfortable.

DF: Can you describe working alongside Colin Cowherd, and what perspectives you and he share regarding the future of sports media?

LS: Working with Colin has been extremely rewarding. A big theme throughout his career has been ‘what’s next’ – he is fascinated with innovation and mobility, and he empowers his team to apply that to The Volume.

He sees where people are consuming content and wants us to serve those audiences. For a guy who is renowned for strong opinions, Colin is quick to pivot when he sees the industry evolving. As more states have legalized gambling, he’s encouraged to produce more gambling content. He asked us to hire a head of gambling – [and] we did [in] Sean Herlihy, and we’ve built out a robust gambling vertical including The Favorites with Chad Millman and Simon Hunter, Moneyline Monaco with Alex Monaco, and daily social content with Liv Moods.

DF: What led to the decision to bring Warriors forward Draymond Green on as a podcast host?

LS: Draymond embodies The Volume. He is emphatic, smart as hell and different. He was looking to start his own show, say the things that he wants to say and build his platform from the ground up.

He’s fascinated with every part of the process and willing to do the dirty work to grow his show. I mean that. He helps book and schedule his guests. He was excited to set up his microphone and webcam. He sends his audio files to his producer Jackson [Safon]. He has the same dedication and passion you see on the court. Even in our earliest conversations, Draymond realized The Volume was a perfect home for him.

DF: What led to the decision to bring on Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young and other athletes through NIL deals? What were the discussions like once you realized it was possible?

LS: Colin is all about empowering and amplifying the next generation of media talent, and the NIL gave us this unique opportunity to give active student athletes a real platform to share their perspectives on life as college football players.

Both shows we launched were around the biggest brands in the sport. On Inside the Garage, you hear four active Notre Dame players react in real-time to Brian Kelly leaving. On The Bryce Young Podcast, Bryce can detail real conversations he has with Nick Saban throughout the season. We had seen this ongoing trend with pro athletes, but not with college athletes. Both shows feel like the first of their kind.

DF: One year after the launch of The Volume, have you changed your expectations regarding the ceiling of the platform?

LS: Absolutely. It’s been fun to look back at where we were a year ago and see all that we accomplished in just 12 months. We launched with five initial podcasts and thought of ourselves as a more traditional podcast network. We have 13 shows now, and are just as focused on video as we are on audio.

We’re moving in the direction of an ‘always on’ content network – where you can watch our talent on essentially every platform – YouTube; Twitter Spaces; TikTok; Instagram Live. We’ve found video to be a meaningful revenue stream for us and that will be a big focus for us in 2022.

DF: How has the sports talk format evolved since you began, specifically its movement into the digital space?

LS: The idea of ‘immediacy’ and ‘authenticity’ have completely taken over the game. For immediacy – fans don’t want to wait for opinions and analysis. They want an immediate reaction. ‘Okay, this game just ended and my team got smoked; someone give me their take and help ease the pain.’ That is something we are big on at The Volume. We launched Lakers Tonight with Jason Timpf specifically for Twitter Spaces so Lakers fans can hear analysis as soon as a game ends.

As for authenticity – you no longer need a million-dollar studio and a bright, shiny desk to make content that cuts through. Some of our most engaging content will be Colin recording a selfie video about Aaron Rodgers while driving on the 405.

DF: What are the similarities and differences between sports talk radio and sports podcasts?

LS: People talk a lot about the differences between the two, but it seems like success for both is defined by their similarities. A good radio show and a good podcast ultimately depend on compelling voices who can capture you immediately, and can build an audience and community over time.

DF: How can podcasts and radio shows coexist in today’s media landscape?

LS: Colin is a unique voice in sports media. His opinions proved interesting first in sports radio, then on TV, after that on social media and now on podcasts. All these platforms can not only coexist; they can help you build a bigger brand.

DF: What are you looking forward to most about the BSM Summit?

LS: Meeting and learning from some of the smartest people in the industry. Hopefully getting to wear a Madonna mic. And a big hug from Jason Barrett.

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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