It’s funny, looking back now. I once had a role in putting together a small event at a local radio station. I thought it’d be easy. It didn’t take long to notice that all of the coordinating, communicating, and moving parts were far more in-depth than I ever anticipated.
With that in mind, I don’t even want to know how many grease fires need to be attended to while piecing together the latest BSM Summit. It has to be like an IKEA project on steroids and HGH at the same time.
That’s one of the things I respect most about Jason Barrett; the guy doesn’t shy away from a challenge. The president of Barrett Sports Media holds an event that benefits the entire sports radio industry, regardless of the workload. How can you not admire that? He truly has a passion and a genuine love for the industry. If sports radio were a car on the side of the road, JB would either be pushing it or changing a tire like a NASCAR pit crew member.
NFL Draft analyst Bucky Brooks has a great saying that quarterbacks are either trucks or trailers; some guys carry a team while others are carried by the squad. It works the same way in sports radio. JB isn’t a guy who is carried by the industry; he’s got a trucker hat on.
JB also represents what the industry needs; sports radio needs people that look beyond what they can get out of it and instead focus on what they can put into it. Sports radio improves when people look to boost the format, not just their bank accounts.
The purpose of this interview isn’t about highlighting JB as the All-American guy. It’s about focusing on how the Summit can impact the mission to make sports radio bigger and better. JB and I also chat about the biggest difficulty he faces while putting the conference together and the impact of COVID on this year’s event. He also shares a few thoughts on radio’s greatest challenges and opportunities going forward. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: First off, why do you choose to run the event?
Jason Barrett: That’s a good question to start. I would say first of all, one of the biggest holes our industry has had for a long time is that every company is focused on what their strategies are, what they think is the best for reaching an audience, selling advertising, all of that.
But I remember I would go to these workshops and people would be in the room and everybody spoke the same language. I bonded with some people who thought like me. Everyone would be saying the key to this is teasing, playing the hits, and all the same bullshit we’ve heard forever.
But then I just listened to Tom Tolbert talk for 25 minutes about barbecuing and playing badminton in the backyard, and he kicked the shit out of me for three quarter-hours doing something that all of us in the room would’ve said is not playing the hits. Then I would listen to Mike Francesa not play sound, not tease, take an interview 40 minutes, and he’d be number one. I’d say, but the room I’m in, everybody said this is the path to be successful.
As you get more and more of those examples you just start to realize, there’s so much information out there, and so many people who succeed doing it differently, that I think you become smarter and more successful as a professional the more you surround yourself with other smart professionals. If I can learn one thing from an iHeart guy, an Audacy guy, a Bonneville, Beasley, and Hubbard guy, I’ve got five keys now in my tool belt that’s going to make me better at what I do.
On top of that, let’s face it, if you work in the business, we’ve all read about each other. We follow a lot of each other’s brands and we go, oh yeah, I heard the Hub is really good. You know what? Do you know why they’re good outside of one time you hit a stream button? What if you met some of these people?
I just looked at it as hey, I’m fortunate that we’ve built this up pretty well over the last six-plus years. You’ve been a big part of that Brian. In doing so, if we can use this platform to bring an industry together, to share ideas and information so we all get out of there with some things that will help us, that’s the goal.
I don’t forget that 80% of the country still listens to music. When we think about, oh, I’ve got to knock this sports station out, I’m like, no, you need them to thrive too. We’ve got four out of five people listening to a music station. We need to pull some of that over so we all win in a bigger way. That’s really the motivation for it.
Then beyond that, look, we all personally like to meet each other, spend some time, and enjoy two days. I think right now, coming off of what we’ve all just went through for the last two years, I think the industry could use it.
BN: What do you hope people gain from the event when they walk away?
JB: I think if there are three things, it would be one — the first and foremost — I hope you come out of there with information. If you don’t leave there in 16 hours of being in that theater with a few things that make you better, then you probably haven’t been paying attention, or you were just hanging out at the after-party getting smashed. [Laughs] That’s number one; I want people to learn something about the business.
Number two, I think it’s great for people to make relationships because those extend beyond the two days. People lose sight of this, Bri, you go to an event and you go, oh yeah, that’s that PD over there. I have no connection to that market. Then a year later, I’ll give you a perfect example, at the last Summit, Rod Lakin is presenting on stage for Phoenix. I’m sure a lot of people were like, oh, West Coast PD, Rod’s really sharp but I’m on the East Coast. What does that have to do with me?
Then all of a sudden, the news comes out two years later Rod Lakin’s now running WIP. I go, did you take time to say hello at the event? It’s always better to build a face-to-face connection because you have no idea where this business is going to take you in five years. The more friends you have, the more likely you are to continue working and the more of a network you have, the better it is to serve you.
If there’s a last takeaway beyond information and making relationships, I think the last part would be celebrating. It’s honoring people at the awards ceremony. It’s shaking someone’s hand who was on stage for a session and saying, hey man, that was really good.
We are all so competitive and we spend 52 weeks in a year trying to stay ahead of competition. We’re battling so many damn choices for the ear these days — or the eyes, we’re not just audio anymore. Sometimes it’s okay to say, hey man, this is a pretty cool damn business to be in.
If you were in L.A., holy shit, I met Colin Cowherd. He’s cool as hell. I went to New York; I met Craig Carton and Fred Toucher. These guys are highly successful personalities in the business. I think if we could celebrate our industry, give people some information, and at the same time, make a few connections, that puts everybody in a good spot.
BN: What’s the biggest difficulty you deal with when you’re putting a conference together like this?
JB: The biggest difficulty is literally being the organizer, executive producer, and host of it. I’m also the lead sales person on it. I’m also the one who goes down to the theater to talk to the manager and make sure the tech is going to be okay. I’m the designer of every image that you’re going to see on that stage, aside from those that I ask to create things because it’s part of their session. It becomes a bear putting the show together.
One of the things I’m proud of is that people see the final agenda and they’ll say, that’s damn good. What they don’t see are the people that I talked to that couldn’t be here. I talked to people for nine months. When I started, I was having dialogue with Mark Cuban because I thought we were going to do a virtual conference. Then literally, the event pivoted to being live and virtual. I knew, okay, I’m not going to be able to get Mark to fly in for this. So okay, we’ll cross that bridge down the road.
You go through a lot of those things because ultimately I look at it as this: if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it big or don’t do it at all. It’s the same way I programmed a radio station; are we here just to talk and fill time, or are we here to maximize minutes and create unforgettable moments? It’s the same with an event. I want people to walk out of there and go, that guy did a damn good job. He’s got a great team around him.
I couldn’t focus on this Summit if our website wasn’t fresh and the social wasn’t on point. In the past, I had to do that too; it doesn’t work. Now I’ve got people like yourself writing content, Demetri is scheduling social. People forget I have to do the top 20 at this time too, the biggest thing we do of the year, next to the Summit. You’ve got all of this going on and there is a reason why I’m up at seven and I go to bed at two.
I’ve got clients to serve but at the same time, I’ve also got to put on a kick-ass show. Otherwise, people aren’t going to find it valuable. If someone’s getting on a plane to come spend two days in a theater, and especially coming off of COVID and all of the stuff we’ve dealt with, I owe them the best experience possible. That’s what my focus is.
BN: What are your concerns related to putting on an event when COVID is still a part of our lives?
JB: Look, I’ll be honest — early January, I was terrified. I thought there was a possibility this would have to get moved back because Omicron started to rear its ugly head and everybody rightfully so was worried about their health and safety. As much as I like getting people together and celebrating the business, I don’t want people to leave here sick, exposing their family to stuff, so that was very much a concern.
New York in general, if you’re going to go to an event, you’ve got to be vaccinated. I knew that was one part of this, but people are vaccinated and have still gotten COVID. I can’t control what the world does.
I think one thing that’s made it a lot easier and the way I’ve communicated this to some around me has been, look, I get it, there are going to be some concerns for some people that maybe they’re not comfortable being in a theater. My answer to them is, well, then buy the virtual ticket. Don’t come. It’s okay, you’re not going to hurt my feelings if you can’t make it because I respect that. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable being somewhere. If they feel that way, they should buy the virtual ticket and take it in that way.
I went to Madison Square Garden in January with my son. There were 15,000 people. Some had masks on, some had masks off. At some point you just say, look, as an adult I’m going to make a decision. I’m either okay being here or I’m not okay being here. I chose to go there. I wouldn’t have done that a year earlier. I did. I came out of it. I’ve been okay.
I flew out to Los Angeles for The Volume’s party. Shook hands, gave a few bro hugs, thought to myself, crap, this would be really bad if I came out of this party and got COVID a month before the Summit. But am I not going to support people who supported me? No, I have to do that. It’s the right thing for business. It’s the right thing for relationships.
I think if we can go to venues where there are 15,000 people and enjoy a sporting event, we should be able to go to a theater with 200 and get through it. I don’t promise anything because I know none of us are health experts. We’re trusting that the air around us is going to be okay and that we’re not in a bad spot. Everyone’s got to make that choice for themselves and if they choose to come or not come, I respect it either way.
There are different ways this time to enjoy the show. Those who are comfortable will be there, those who are not will go online and hopefully down the road, we’ll be in a spot where everyone’s comfortable being together.
BN: What’s the biggest fire you’ve had to put out in the past or just the craziest scenario you’ve encountered?
JB: Honestly, I’ve been lucky to dodge some major fires. Back in Los Angeles, we were scheduled to have Daryl Morey be part of the esports panel. I was really looking forward to that because I think he’s brilliant. He’s just got a really sharp mind for business.
On the morning of, I was notified that he couldn’t make it. They sent in his place their head of Clutch Gaming at the time when Daryl was with the Rockets, Sebastian Park. Now you know our audience, and Sebastian was great, but people want Daryl Morey.
Fortunately, that same morning I had connected with Eric Shanks. I hadn’t told people that Eric was going to be there because I wasn’t planning on him being there. He literally said I will come to the GRAMMY Museum to say a few words on behalf of Tony Bruno. When I took the stage to tell people I’ve got some good news and some bad news, Daryl Morey — and I heard the collective sigh — then I said but we’ve added FOX Sports President and CEO Eric Shanks, everyone went that’s pretty damn good.
I’ve been lucky to get through it but, look, it’s like when a band goes on stage, you can rehearse the songs, you could know what each other is supposed to do, what positions you’re supposed to be in, and then literally some roadie in the back knocks over a set of speakers that falls on the drummer and the whole show is changed. [Laughs] I’m lucky we haven’t had a roadie knock the speakers over yet.
But when you’re doing 16 hours of live programming, you’re always one step away from chaos. I pray that we’re not dealing with a major fire. It would be great if we could do this every year and not have one because once it happens, you just don’t want the building to burn down.
BN: What do you see as radio’s greatest challenges and opportunities going forward?
JB: First of all, the biggest opportunity is that audio listening is at a record high. Especially if you look over the last seven years, the growth of spoken word and listening is through the roof. There’s a lot of options out there for people.
I think that also presents the biggest obstacle. More people are creating content than ever before. More people are listening because of technology. We all have phones. We’ve got smart speakers. The opportunities to consume audio, everybody’s got earbuds in their ears, or they’ve got a phone nearby, or a computer, or if they’re in the car, the radio.
I think the real challenge — and what’s going to be interesting to follow in the next decade — is going to be the shift from the radio to streaming. We were already seeing it, but when you look at some of the rapid growth; I remember two years ago, and this is something I’m going to talk about at the show, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek had said radio is their biggest competitor. He’s interested in basically making sure linear dies. At the time — obviously as a radio guy, you’re a lifer like myself — you go, man, this is a great business, I don’t want to see linear die.
It’s not that it’s dying, it’s moving to different places. Whether it’s Pardon My Take being offered through podcasting platforms or through a terrestrial speaker, it’s still a show that we’re all going to enjoy and listen to. It’s just how you listen. The real challenge going forward is if that shifts, does the advertising shift with it? That’s going to be hard to replicate. We’ve been so dependent on the terrestrial model.
The other part of this is measuring it and finding it. Discovering where content lives is easy when you’re ESPN and you’ve got the world’s biggest reach and everyone knows they’ve got ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+, or ESPN podcasts. You’re going to find them everywhere, but what do you do if you’re in a local market in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Salt Lake, how do you break through on the charts so people know your stuff?
At the same time, how do you turn those advertisers who’ve been spending money for the radio space and convince them to shift to a digital plan when you can’t even show the digital measurement the way you’ve shown radio measurement?
There’s a lot of things that are going to change. Who knows where we’re at in 20 years, Bri. Facebook became Meta. Pretty soon, we’re going to have artificial intelligence shows going on. This world is going to be crazy. I’m just glad that it’ll be my son’s problem to deal with in 20 years, not mine.
BN: I hear you, man. Do you have a final message you’d like to convey with the Summit set to begin?
JB: I’m grateful for everybody making the trip into New York. Especially thankful for the support we’ve had from our sponsors on it. This is the best year we’ve had with it and coming off of COVID, it’s really rejuvenated me to see that people care about their business enough to put their support behind It.
I just want people to come to New York, learn, laugh, have a good time, and ultimately walk out of there with some information to make their brands better. If we can accomplish that in 16 hours, I’ll feel we’ve done our job. Then we take a little reprieve before focusing on the next one.
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
If Marty Smith doesn’t seem authentic to you, maybe it is because his version of “Southern” isn’t one you’re familiar with. Maybe it is a version of “Southern” that only exists in one dude on the entire planet.
Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
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.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
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.