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There’s Good Ways to Broadcast Bad Teams

How do broadcasters handle calling the dog days of a team that’s playing poorly? Andy Masur asked a couple of announcers in that position.

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When your team isn’t playing well, it’s tough on everyone. The organization feels it, so do the players. Of course the fans get frustrated and yes, it can even affects the broadcast. Nobody likes it when their team loses. But let’s face it, in baseball, the best teams are going to lose around 60 games a season. But it’s those 90-100 loss seasons that really take their toll. It makes the season seem longer. It feels like September, but it’s only July. 

I’ve experienced these early ‘dog days’ as a broadcaster on more than one occasion. The team I was covering was double digit games back in the standings with no improvement in sight. We weren’t even halfway through the season yet. It will test your metal as a broadcaster, to be able to keep it together and most importantly keep your audience involved and engaged. 

I reached out via email to a couple of friends in the industry to get their take. Unfortunately, their teams are not performing that well to this point of the season. I wanted to find out from them a few different things.

Were they trying new things on the air while their team was struggling?

What do you do, when your main job is to describe what you see, and what you’re seeing isn’t good?

How do you keep your audience entertained when the team isn’t doing it for you? 

Jack Corrigan is in his 37th season of calling Major League Baseball games. He recently broadcast his 3000th game with the Colorado Rockies. Corrigan started in Cleveland in 1985 before moving to Denver, to broadcast Rockies games in 2003. As I write this column, the Rockies are 31-42, 15 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. For Corrigan though, the mission is the same, win, lose or draw. 

“I don’t think I do anything different based on recent play. Like you, I’ve had my share of tough stretches/seasons between the Indians and the Rockies, but I compartmentalize each game as a new story,” he told me.

“Herb Score (the legendary Indians broadcaster) told me once that even the worst teams still win 50-60 games,” Corrigan added. “So believe that game is going to be one of those wins. And Herb, God bless him, also told me to feel better, even if that game ends up in a loss, because the team is still going to win 50-60 games and your odds have now improved by one game!”

Dave Jageler is in his 17th season with the Nationals, teaming with Charlie Slowes on the radio calls. As I type this sentence, the Nationals are 28-48, a full 20 games behind the Mets in the NL East. Like Corrigan, Jageler says he really isn’t doing much differently as a result of the team’s lack of early success. 

“The preparation is the same (both pre-series and day of game) as any other year,” Jageler told me via email.  “However, I am reminded of advice Dave Van Horne gave me my first season when the Nationals were struggling and facing a struggling Marlins team.  He said he approaches every game like he is the doing the “Game of the Week.”  In other words, find some sort of story line that makes that day’s game interesting.  And he’s right, because every day the game you are doing is the most important game of the day!”   

But Jageler points out there are a few subtle differences in calling games for a team out of the race.  

“I don’t focus on the standings or the big picture of what this game means to the team’s chances or status in the race. Instead, I focus on the element of just that series,” said Jageler. “…for example, the team is going for a series win…or trying to avoid the sweep in the series rather than talking about games back in the standings,” he pointed out. 

It makes a lot of sense. Tailor the broadcast to your audience. Fans of your team are smart enough to know that things aren’t going well on the field. They don’t want to be beaten over the head with all the negativity. If you are just harping on the team’s performance, you’ll probably lose them as listeners. It’s a challenge for any broadcaster to hold that audience whether the team is winning or not. Jageler understands the need to be honest with his listeners, but there is that fine line you have to be careful not to cross. 

“I do manage my commentary on air when it comes to bad play or results slightly. You owe it to your listeners to describe a play fairly and objectively (good or bad). However, where you draw the line is referring back to a bad play constantly or piling on. Our fans are savvy enough to know the state of the team and the state of that game if the score is bad. Piling on will only alienate you in the clubhouse and frankly cause listeners to tune out,” he accurately pointed out. 

Having been behind the mic for tough seasons before, the worst thing you can do as a broadcaster is let all the negativity get the best of you. As Jageler points out, not only is that kind of talk a turn off to the fans, it wins you no friends in the clubhouse. That will make a tough job even tougher. These are human beings who are not trying to play badly. You have to be the same person, whether they (the team) win or lose. Players and managers respect you more if you aren’t a ‘front runner’. 

“The team, the station, the advertisers all want to keep people listening, so you have to be honest about poor plays, but always give them a reason to keep listening,” Corrigan said. “I think it’s imperative to have stories, interesting facts, a little pop culture to fall back on when things aren’t going well. If the audience feels you’re still having fun with the game and with your partner, they’re more likely to keep listening. A good ‘I didn’t know that’ anecdote goes a long way to getting through difficult times.”

Tough seasons test your creativity as well. The main point is to hang on to that audience as has been pointed out. Let your personality shine. When I was in San Diego, Ted Leitner and Jerry Coleman had such a rapport from all the years they’ve been together it was easy for them. All Ted had to say was, “Hey Jer, what’d you do today?” and the audience knew something riveting was about to happen. Coleman would wax on about his day, which usually contained something quite unintentionally funny. Fans grew to love the ‘segment’ and looked forward to it when the Padres weren’t playing well and even when they were.

Some clubs are struggling by design if you will. Trying to rebuild from the studs in an attempt to build a palace. Draft picks are coveted and prospects are revered before they’ve ever stepped foot onto a big-league diamond. Fans hang on every stat, and promotion. This of course puts more emphasis on the minor league system. But it doesn’t work for all teams. 

“We have a sponsored segment regarding our farm system, so that’s always a part of our broadcasts,” Corrigan accurately describes. “I think the announcers for organizations that have a “draft and develop” philosophy are likely to talk about their farm system regardless of how the big club is doing.”

Professional announcers are able to adapt to the situation. But, the audience, whether the team is winning or losing, expect certain things from their play-by-play folks. They want an entertaining, informative and detailed account of what is happening on the field and off of it. The good ones understand this implicitly. 

“The bottom line is I try to bring the same energy every day to the job whether it is a postseason game or a July game with no bearing on the standings at all.” Jageler tells me. “If you don’t bring joy to the game and are broadcasting like it is a chore, why would anyone tune in?  The team may not be in first place, but I try to be a first-place broadcaster.”

BSM Writers

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.

Brian Noe

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Radio

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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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.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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