“This is SportsCenter.” Those iconic words have been spoken over ESPN’s multiple platforms of dissemination since 1979, indicative of the start of an hour of game highlights, expert analysis, memorable in-studio moments, and for some, the realization of a career goal. Over the years, SportsCenter has been anchored by its share of notorious personalities, including Scott Van Pelt, Craig Kilborn, Dan Patrick and Stuart Scott, all of whom infused or continue to infuse the program with their nuances.
Today, the format of the program has somewhat changed, concurrent with the dynamic state of today’s media landscape and the increased accessibility fans have to the sports teams and leagues they follow – some doing so more fastidiously than others.
The purpose of SportsCenter as a show on ESPN is not only to serve as a source of information, but also as a place for viewers to be entertained. As a result, the chemistry between the hosts of each individual edition of SportsCenter is something that has to be fostered in order to keep fans coming back for the hosts per se. Integrating other aspects of pop culture, such as movies, music or current events, into the sports news cycle and interspersing it other dialogue when applicable, renders the program compelling and intriguing for viewers to watch on a daily basis. More than 60,000 episodes later, the institution continues to be a backbone of ESPN’s studio programming.
Randy Scott and Gary Striewski followed a similar path that took their careers to ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut. They rose through the broadcasting ranks with an unwavering persistence and determination to succeed. Both anchors grew up in military households and watched SportsCenter from the time they were young, and recognize it as part of the reason they wanted to become broadcasters. In fact, Striewski wrote in his eighth grade yearbook that he would be a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN when he grew up. To get there though, he worked as a personal banker at a credit union while attaining his undergraduate degree in journalism at the Metropolitan State College of Denver. After his graduation, he took a 50% pay cut and relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming to begin his career as sports director for KGWN. He knew that starting in a smaller marketplace would ultimately prove to be beneficial when looking back at his career trajectory, taking the advice he overheard from a reporter while he was interning at FOX.
“He was chewing the fat with the sports director,” Striewski recalled of the FOX reporter, “and he was like, ‘You’re going to suck in your first job. Go suck in front of 50,000 people in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as opposed to 500,000 people in Des Moines, [Iowa] or something like that’ because you’re not going to be good. No matter how good you think you are, you’re going to suck. Get that ‘suck’ out of the way in front of the least amount of people as possible – that way when you’re ready to make that jump, you’re good or you suck less.”
Striewski’s co-host Randy Scott grew up without cable and watched SportsCenter at the homes of his friends. He coerced them to watch episodes they had already viewed because of his interest and enthusiasm for the program. After he graduated Northwestern University a semester early with a degree in journalism, he struggled to find a job until he received an offer from KSWO-TV in Lawton, Oklahoma. Before accepting that job offer though, Scott made his debut appearance on ESPN as a contestant on the show Dream Job, a reality program with a grand prize of landing a role as a SportsCenter anchor on the network. After placing in the round of 30, Scott was unable to advance to make the top 10. Three days later he had moved from his home in Virginia to take the job offer in Oklahoma.
“This business is designed to pay you nothing and weed out people who aren’t really committed to it,” Scott said. “One of those commitments has to be starting in the middle of nowhere and getting experience.”
After working within smaller markets in Lawton and Toccoa, Georgia, Scott was hired at NESN in Boston in 2010. He served as a sports anchor and reporter at a place he would stay for nearly three years before joining ESPN in 2012. One year later, Striewski arrived at NESN following stints in Cheyenne and Houston and eventually worked as a Major League Baseball sideline reporter for the Boston Red Sox. During his time in “Beantown,” several of his co-workers asked if he had ever worked with Scott – now his current partner at ESPN – sensing the two would form a good duo on the air.
“A lot of the people that [I] worked with were like, ‘[Have] you ever [worked] with Randy? You guys are the same person,’” Striewski recalled. “I’m like, ‘I keep hearing that. Who’s this Randy guy?’ Randy legitimately has been everywhere that I end up – just a couple of years prior to me – and then over the last couple of months, we met at the SportsCenter desk.”
As anchors for SportsCenter A.M. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, both Scott and Striewski have found a way to blend the traditional facets of the program with modern means of consumption, including through streaming and social media platforms. They draw inspiration from those pioneers that came before them on SportsCenter while also staying true to their own personalities and the rapport they have cultivated since working together on the show.
“I don’t think you can get to this point at this time without having some real fingerprints from other people that you’ve watched,” Scott said. “It’s hard because on Twitter you’ll get people who are like, ‘Stop trying to be fill in the blank.’ Gary and I laugh, and I want to say that [Scott] Van Pelt and Neil Everett were the first guys I remember laughing and working together. I think we’ve probably cribbed different style things from so many different people.”
Throughout the show, there are several opportunities in which Scott and Striewski are able to divulge their personas; however, through the use of non-linear platforms of distribution, they can create content regardless of it appearing on the television program to engage with viewers. In this way, they have been able to draw positive feedback and differentiated themselves from the other editions of the show with other anchoring pairs on ESPN.
“I think now you can lament the fact that things are digital and that things are streamlined – there are people who have said, ‘Oh, you’re just a piece of the ESPN machine.’ Or you can put your spin on it; put your style on it,” explained Scott. “Right now there is an opportunity to clip that off and put it out in channels where there are sports fans that maybe didn’t watch the actual TV broadcast, but they still consume ESPN.”
One of those channels of distribution is social media – specifically Snapchat, which is approaching a daily active user figure of 400 million with a continuing upward trajectory. Striewski serves as the host of the Snapchat edition of SportsCenter, which garners approximately 2 million viewers per day. Out of those 2 million viewers, 1.6 million of them (80%) were unaware of the show’s origination and primary locale on linear television, making that faction of users appear resplendent in terms of a target psychographic to the next generation of content creators and on-air personalities in sports media.
“If we can take that 1.6 million, or even a fraction of that, and bring them over to TV by doing something cool; doing something memorable,” said Striewski. “It’s all about basically funneling or trying to bring over some of those digital viewers and letting them know this linear thing is still here and we’re taking elements from it.”
Streaming and on-demand viewing options are gradually taking their share in the strategy and means of distribution for various media outlets, whether or not they are related to sports. The altered state of media consumption from linear to nonlinear programming through different platforms of dissemination is undoubtedly in the midst of taking form; however, Striewski is not sure that will last based on his own view of consumer behavior.
“I think everything is cyclical,” explained Striewski. “Everybody started becoming cable-cutters, and then streaming happened and now everybody has a million different streaming accounts and are like, ‘Wait a minute – I’m paying five times more for all of these different streaming platforms than I was just doing cable. Hold on, let me just get cable again.’ It doesn’t seem like that’s how the numbers are trending, but like I said, I think everything is cyclical.”
A central part of what has differentiated SportsCenter over the years is the team that puts together the program, whether it be in the specializations of research, graphic design, audio or live production. As it continues its run on the air since the launch of ESPN in September 1979, the broadcast has continued to thrive as the flagship program not only because of the highlights and entertainment, but also due to its inherent production value and esoteric information it provides to its audience.
“The team that actually puts SportsCenter on the air [are] the best-of-the-best,” Striewski said. “They will come up with the most ridiculous stats and nuggets of information that you have to sift through…. We still do that better than anybody else who does it, and I don’t think there’s a close second to sort of pump the chest of the people who work behind-the-scenes whose faces you may not know but whose information and whose knowledge and whose passion comes through in situations like that.”
Over the years, the look and feel of SportsCenter has, at the core, remained consistent; nonetheless, the program has been able to adapt to widespread changes in media. By being cognizant of the past while also keeping an eye towards the future, ESPN has sought to remain ahead of the pack when it comes to innovation to ensure the program remains relevant in the digital age. While the content of the show and means of distribution certainly have an impact on viewership numbers, the people sitting at the desk delivering the information to the audience en masse is the driving force of what makes each episode of SportsCenter unique, and in some instances, appointment television.
“I will plead ignorance to the macro 10,000-foot view of a lot of the challenges that ESPN is not unique in facing right now,” said Scott. “…For us in what we do for the SportsCenter we are lucky enough to sort of have proprietary ownership of, I think people still want to see how we do highlights. We can sort of be this catch-all; this funnel where it’s not just the highlight – it’s the sound that goes with the highlight; it’s the stat that goes with the highlight.”
The commodification and subsequent ability to rapidly engage with user-generated content has genuinely rendered people with a camera and internet connection as cultivators of and/or contributors to stories. Having an active connection to the audience is something Scott and Striewski have and will continue to prioritize as they continue hosting SportsCenter together as they attempt to implement their own content, which is often shared through social media or other mediated communication platforms, into the show when appropriate.
“There’s going to be a continued blurred line between linear cable, social media and user-generated content,” said Scott. “…I feel like it’s almost like a community view of generating content where… just as we need to be able to meet the consumers… where they’re at, we have to also be open to a video getting traction online [that] is sports related.”
The same people who serve as potential content creators also serve as a source of feedback for Scott, Striewski and the entire SportsCenter team at ESPN. As with most other shows, there are people who enjoy the programming and those who loathe it, and some of those viewers choose to opine those views in public communication forums. In an effort to better engage with their audience and implement them within the broadcast, the possibility of breaking down the metaphorical ‘third wall’ that exists between the studio and screen – deviating from the accepted modus operandi – is something being considered for future shows.
“We’re actually toying with the idea of using [the] tweets [from] people who are watching it; interacting with the show; getting the references or not getting the references… [and] going to break with that,” said Striewski. “We’re toying with those ideas because we get a lot of that stuff daily… and I think it is a good thing that we can have real-time feedback.”
For nearly 43 years, SportsCenter has been a mainstay at ESPN as a place where all sports are covered and highlighted, whether it be at the collegiate or professional level. According to both Scott and Striewski, an auspicious future lies ahead for SportsCenter, and neither sees it departing ESPN’s slate of programming any time soon.
“I don’t think SportsCenter is ever going away – it’s ‘Fourth of July and Apple Pie’ as far as I’m concerned – you just have to figure out how to get it to the consumers,” said Striewski. “The consumers aren’t going away; people want to consume content. You just have to go meet them where they’re at.”
For the duo of Scott and Striewski though, it seeks to continue to distinguish itself among the other editions of SportsCenter by explicating the ongoing trends in media consumption and evolution while imbuing their own personalities in the show in the process. They hope that following this strategy will help their edition of the show experience continued, sustained growth alongside the rest of the programming across the network.
“Each individual SportsCenter will continue to find a way to differentiate itself, to stand out and will take risks and chances to try to accomplish that while also staying true to what SportsCenter has been, and what has worked and what continues to work,” said Scott. “[That is] being right, being as first as possible… being informative and being entertaining. As long as you stick to those pillars and take chances on top of that, I think that’s where it’s going.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.