Demetri Ravanos goes off on rumors of Amazon considering an alternate Thursday Night Football broadcast built around Drew Brees, talks to Stephen Strom about the reaction to the Adam Schefter profile in The Washington Post, and connects with Andy Masur to discuss the lucrative future awaiting Matthew Berry on this week’s episode of Media Noise.
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.
Wayne Randazzo Wants More Monumental Moments
“You have to network but you also have to get good at what you do,” he said. “I think spending the time to get better and make yourself a fundamentally good broadcaster”.
As he stepped up to the plate at Dodger Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman/designated hitter Albert Pujols was two swings away from becoming just the fourth player in league history to reach 700 career home runs. The 42-year-old is in the midst of his final season in Major League Baseball and it is certainly one to remember, especially since the Cardinals will play in October with a legitimate chance to capture a World Series championship. Perched several levels above the field, Wayne Randazzo was behind the microphone for the Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball broadcast with a near-capacity crowd fixated on the field and many more watching from afar.
Once Pujols crushed his 699th career home run, the palpability of hitting number 700 became much more genuine in scope. As the perennial slugger stepped up to the plate for the third time, Randazzo and the Apple TV+ broadcast team were ready for the chance to deliver an enduring moment in baseball history.
For Randazzo, 36, it represented a milestone in his broadcast career and the realization of a dream of his to be able to call indelible accomplishments in Major League Baseball on a national stage. From the time he was a child in Chicago, the nuance and grandeur associated with baseball served as factors that persuaded him to work in sports media – and the announcers explaining it all helped him effectively learn the game.
One announcer in particular that stood out to Randazzo during his formative years of fandom was Harry Caray, the longtime play-by-play voice of his childhood team, the Chicago Cubs. Caray’s unique style of announcing and ability to entertain baseball fans of all ages impacted Randazzo’s development as a broadcaster and cultivation of a distinctive style.
“His enthusiasm and passion for calling the games was really infectious to me,” Randazzo said of Caray, “so I always wanted to get involved with it and followed different sportscasters that I liked.”
After initially attending Arizona State University to study broadcast communications, Randazzo transferred schools and attended North Central College, a school considerably smaller in size with a robust broadcast program. As a member of the school’s radio station, WONC, Randazzo immediately networked with the sports director at the time who gave him opportunities to call various types of sporting events and eventually ascended to the role himself. His passion and drive to succeed were so great that he was willing to do whatever it took to get him on the air.
“There were just a lot of opportunities there to call football, basketball, and baseball [where I could] really start to hone my skills and the craft and really just kind of be behind the microphone and call those sporting events,” Randazzo said. “It was a lot of fun for me to go to a school that allowed me to be able to do that.”
Throughout his time in college and in conversations with other people within the industry, Randazzo was often told about the highly competitive and cutthroat nature of sports media that has dissuaded some incipient talents from working in it. Unfazed and confident in his own abilities, Randazzo landed a sports internship with WGN Radio in Chicago following his first year in college and was surprised to enter into an environment centered around the principles of congeniality and collaboration.
“It was still the number one station in Chicago – it was the king,” Randazzo said. “…I just remember everyone being really happy there…. It just seems like everybody was on cloud nine just to be there. I thought that was a really cool environment they had at the time there.”
Over his time interning at the station, Randazzo felt immersed as a member of the team and had several mentors including Mike Ferrin and Andy Masur, the latter of whom still works for WGN as a play-by-play announcer and anchor along with serving as a columnist for Barrett Sports Media. As Randazzo’s internship concluded, the people at the station helped him land a job at the Illinois Radio Network as a morning sports anchor and reporter at 21 years of age.
“Everybody just really looked out for me,” Randazzo said of the team at WGN. “I think they thought I was a good intern and they listened to my tapes and they thought my tapes were good. They thought I had a future in the business and they really taught me as much as they could and they set me up on a good path.”
Two years later, Randazzo attended the job fair at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings, which in 2007, were taking place at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Equipped with various demo tapes and résumés with the hope of landing a broadcasting job, Randazzo interacted with team representatives and received several offers to work as the number two broadcaster in the booth for minor league teams.
Unexpectedly, Randazzo also received two offers to be the lead play-by-play announcer for minor league baseball from both the Hickory Crawdads (High-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Mobile BayBears (Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Randazzo took the job in Mobile, and also worked as the team’s director of media relations meaning he was working as both a broadcaster and public relations practitioner simultaneously.
“It was an unbelievable learning experience,” Randazzo said. “I was doing all the games by myself and traveling with the team. I didn’t know what I was doing at all [but] it was a great chance to spend three hours a night broadcasting these games and just learning how to do it.”
Randazzo returned home to Chicago after three seasons with the Mobile BayBears to join 670 The Score as an update anchor and part-time talk show host. Once baseball season came around, he joined the Kane County Cougars, then-Single A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, to work both in sales and as the play-by-play announcer. The experience of working in a major market while continuing to refine his skills as a broadcaster was a unique blend that set Randazzo up for sustained future success.
“When I went to Chicago, it was really a big deal to get on 670 The Score and to do updates,” Randazzo said. “It was really my first taste of being known in a market [and…] it was great to have that experience to really work in front of an audience for the first time.”
Aside from those roles, Randazzo also joined the Big Ten Network as a play-by-play announcer for its sporting events and signed on with ESPN to announce games on ESPN3 and ESPNU, which over the years have included basketball, college football, and ultimate frisbee. Setting himself up as a professional with stellar versatility and adaptability, he felt he would be able to easily fit with the New York Mets broadcasting team once a position opened prior to the 2015 season to host pregame and postgame coverage on the radio.
“They wanted someone who could host, do interviews, and also do play-by-play,” Randazzo recalled of the job opening. “They were kind of looking for a jack-of-all-trades and I was one. I really put myself in a position to do everything so that if something like that opened, I could slide over and do it.”
In his first year with the New York Mets Radio Network with its flagship station, WOR-AM at the time, the Mets advanced to the World Series, meaning that Randazzo was able to provide coverage deep into the postseason. It was a special opportunity for him in his first year and one he hopes to have again as the team looks to make a championship run this year.
At the same time though, being able to be around professional broadcasters including Howie Rose, Josh Lewin, and Gary Cohen allowed Randazzo to receive advice and work on improving his skills and get them to the point where he could eventually earn a promotion as a play-by-play announcer.
“I got better at play-by-play and I think I grew so much as a play-by-play announcer in that role, even compared to seven years doing Minor League Baseball, because the stakes were different,” Randazzo said. “The highlights were put out into the universe [and] you heard your calls back on different networks or different stations. I felt like I had to step up my game and I did to a point that when Josh [Lewin] left, I was really kind of right there; I was the only target really to replace him.”
Randazzo was promoted to work alongside Howie Rose on the radio broadcasts, a distinctive pairing of two professional broadcasters bereft of a former athlete doing color commentary such as Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, who work with Cohen on the Mets’ television broadcasts on SNY. Yet his promotion, which coincided with the transition to WCBS Newsradio 880 as its flagship station, was conditional in that he was signed to a one-year contract, meaning that he had to prove that he belonged.
“I thought there might be some pressure but there really wasn’t,” Randazzo said regarding his first year in the booth. “I was getting used to the role and developing chemistry with Howie…. I never really thought about it; I thought things would take care of themselves if I did what I was capable of, and that’s all I focused on.”
Howie Rose, an accomplished broadcaster with experience calling games in multiple sports on both television and radio, has served as a mentor to Randazzo who seeks to continue to grow in the industry. Rose was mentored by his childhood idol, Marv Albert, and enjoys passing it forward by mentoring younger broadcasters himself and serving as a resource throughout their journeys in sports media. For Randazzo, having the opportunity to work with Rose on a regular basis and be the recipient of his broadcasting expertise has significantly catalyzed his growth as an announcer, giving him the skills for success no matter the situation.
“When you’re a young announcer in his orbit and you reach out to him for something, he is there right away,” Randazzo said. “He’s there to give good, thoughtful advice every single time. If there was a call I wasn’t sure about or if there was an opportunity coming up that I wanted to get and wanted some thoughts from him on how to get it, he’s always right there to tell you something that maybe you haven’t thought of or an angle you could look at differently.”
Aspiring broadcasters in sports media have more resources than ever before to utilize in their quest to build careers with the advent of social media and advancement of technology. Whether it is in doing play-by-play, reporting or hosting, the ability for a multitude of voices to be disseminated in the marketplace is there and the chances to receive feedback are plentiful. Nonetheless, an essential part of working in media of any kind is networking and fostering professional relationships with those inside and outside of the industry to enhance one’s work and career trajectory.
Doing that networking while risking the development of your own skills and building a broadcast portfolio though is an issue, according to Randazzo, with many young broadcasters and a focus he cautions taking.
“You have to network but you also have to get good at what you do,” he said. “I think spending the time to get better and make yourself a fundamentally good broadcaster; I think that will be much more helpful as you go along to pair it with the networking instead of just networking and maybe not paying as much attention to what you’re doing.”
Akin to Rose, Randazzo is no stranger to the big moment. In his first season working directly with Rose, it was Randazzo on the call when Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso broke the Mets’ single-season home run record. Following his call of the home run, he went to Rose for feedback on how to better approach a big moment with the hope of being able to improve on it if another opportunity arose.
“I asked Howie what he thought,” Randazzo said. “He said: ‘Next time you get a call like that, don’t worry as much about the historical stuff; focus on the reaction on the field.’”
One month later, the Mets were playing a Saturday night matchup against the Atlanta Braves with Alonso on the cusp of breaking the major league single-season rookie home run record set two years earlier by New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. The game was being televised nationally by Fox, meaning that it would be Don Orsillo delivering the call rather than SNY’s Cohen if the record was broken that night.
On the radio though, Rose and Randazzo were the ones occupying the radio booth at Citi Field – named after former Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy – and when Alonso stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the third inning, he delivered a blast to right-center field.
“When Alonso hit his 53rd home run, I gave the call and then focused on Alonso rounding the bases and his approach towards his teammates,” Randazzo explained. “It’s radio; you’ve got to do a little more describing. I focused on the things that Howie said to focus on more. [I thought] it was a more satisfying call… [and] I was able to fill in the historical component of it after that.”
Fast-forward to this past Friday. Randazzo was in Los Angeles, Calif. at Dodger Stadium on the call for an Apple TV+ exclusive broadcast of the St. Louis Cardinals’ matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did not start working with Apple TV+ until there was a last-minute opening to do play-by-play for its broadcast of a Mets game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., which turned out to be an exciting win for the Amazins’.
“They liked what they heard and they asked me if there were some possibilities to do a few games later in the season because they felt there would be a couple more openings as we went along,” Randazzo said. “One of them was Cardinals-Dodgers and I had that circled on my calendar.”
Apple TV+’s coverage of Major League Baseball has received its fair share of criticism in its inaugural season as the media landscape gradually shifts towards digitally-based streaming platforms and OTT providers for television consumption. With broadcast crews that only work together once per week, it can be difficult to immediately foster chemistry and appeal to national audiences, especially when part of that audience is staunch in their ways of watching games on network television and steadfast to those commentators. This seismic shift in media consumption and programming is necessary though for content providers to continue to reach various demographics and encourage widespread contribution to content creation.
“I think people will eventually embrace those kinds of games, and I think that for baseball especially, they need to be on the ground floor of this stuff,” Randazzo stated. “They’re the ones who feel like they’re losing an audience to some degree or have lost part of their audience and they try to make sure they’re gaining younger viewers. Putting these games on Apple TV+ I think is smart [and] I think that it will help them grow.”
Randazzo, who has had previous experience announcing games on television for Fox and as a backup to Cohen on SNY, knows the medium differs in terms of the loquaciousness in diction and evocation of imagery in the vernacular of a play-by-play announcer. His versatility and thorough understanding of working in different areas of media paid off on Friday when he delivered the national call of Albert Pujols’ 700th career home run. His preparation for the moment was minimal; he once again spoke to his radio partner Rose and reviewed key points to make in the midst of the moment.
“I think saying the number in the live call as soon as you can is an important thing to do,” Randazzo said. “I wanted to say that Albert had joined the 700 home run club, which I did. Other than that, I didn’t want to prepare too much for anything; I didn’t want to be ready to say something because you never know what kind of home run that it’s going to be.”
Pujols had not hit a home run in a week entering Friday’s matchup, but hit a majestic blast for number 699 early in the game, meaning that the possibility of his hitting the milestone home run became all the more probable. Randazzo and the Apple TV+ broadcast team had prepared for just the scenario in their production meeting earlier in the day, strategizing on how they would approach his forthcoming at-bats and overall game presentation with a potential marker in baseball history looming large.
“My thoughts were to call it quickly; just call the pitches during the at-bat [and] not really even say much during the at-bat,” Randazzo said. “Call the pitches and then cap the home run call and then get out of the way and let the pictures tell the story…. I think that was really important to let the moment and the pictures and the crowd and Albert’s reaction carry the broadcast.”
Randazzo received much praise for his call on social media and from other announcers and colleagues across the industry. For him, the moment was indicative of something that was “beyond a dream come true”; however, he believes Cardinals play-by-play announcer Dan McLaughlin deserved to be on the microphone instead of him. It was the subject of conversation regarding the other Apple TV+ broadcast that night as the Yankees faced the Boston Red Sox with Aaron Judge one home run away from tying the American League single-season record previously set by Roger Maris in 1961.
Stephen Nelson, a broadcaster for Apple TV+ and host on MLB Network, was in the broadcast booth that night joined by Katie Nolan and Hunter Pence, and he would be the one recording history rather than Yankees play-by-play announcer Michael Kay if it happened. It was reported by The New York Post that the Yankees organization was negotiating with Apple TV+ to air the game on YES Network featuring their broadcast team, but the deal never went through and was criticized by Kay who felt Nelson deserved the moment if it happened during the game on Friday.
“When you’re making that leap to television, you know it comes with sacrifices; you know it going in,” Randazzo said. “If your team is good, you’re going to lose games because they’ll be on national TV. If they get to the playoffs, you’re not doing them because the playoffs are on national TV…. It’s a sacrifice that I think you make for all the good things that come with doing TV.”
Making calls at moments of profound meaning and impact are what most broadcasters aspire to do throughout their careers, and Randazzo hopes Friday night was the continuation of an evolving career containing many more chances to narrate those stories to viewers worldwide. Perhaps Randazzo will be in the booth for more special moments as the Mets try to embark on a postseason run that they hope ends in the organization’s first World Series title since 1986.
“I want to be a part of telling the stories every day to a fanbase that cares [and] that is hoping that their team wins and is there with you every day,” Randazzo said. “On the other hand, I’d like to do more games on a national scale and be a part of big moments and deliver calls like the one I did on Friday…. I hope I get a chance to call games at the highest level. Whatever that looks like and whatever network that is, I hope I get those opportunities.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
Jason Barrett Podcast: Jay Williams, ESPN
Getting to ESPN and then succeeding with what he has been offered has taken a lot of learning and patience for Jay Williams. Check out his conversation with Jason Barrett.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
BetMGM Gambles With NBC Sports Deal
This is a move borne somewhat out of necessity for BetMGM, who currently sit fourth in market share behind FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars.
Our current economic recession is hitting companies across the country and the world. Cutbacks are happening in nearly every industry, and more are sure to come as interest rates go up and supply chains still in disarray from the pandemic shutdowns. Few industries are recession-proof, but sports might be one of them. Bloomberg thinks so, at least, per an article on Sunday where they discussed the sale of professional sports franchises and how they deem them a “recession-proof investment” for potential buyers. Sports books like BetMGM can’t be viewed in that same prism.
Sports books have not only publicly stated their need to rein in some of their spending, but their bottom lines have proven this to be the case as well. Numbers from the first part of this year have shown every book projecting heavy losses for the 2022 calendar year. Even FanDuel, who controls more than half of the betting market in the United States, reported a loss of nearly $150 million in the first half of the year, despite bringing in nearly $1.2 billion in revenue.
That’s what makes BetMGM’s deal with NBC Sports stand out. Many noticed the absence of PointsBet’s segments during Football Night In America during the first two weeks of the season, which came about due to PointsBet no longer being an authorized partner of the NFL. As such, they could not be present during NFL broadcasts and associated shows, such as FNIA.
Enter BetMGM, whose announcement of a partnership with NBC on Sunday did not disclose financial details. Per the press release, the book will be featured on FNIA with weekly integrations, as well as have a heavy presence in all of Matthew Berry’s programming on Peacock, including his daily show Fantasy Football Happy Hour and his Fantasy Football Pregame show on Sunday. In addition, Chris Simms will feature them on his Unbuttoned podcast.
This is a move borne somewhat out of necessity for BetMGM, who currently sit fourth in market share behind FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars. While the financials are unknown, one can reasonably assume it was a substantially higher number than the five year, $400 million deal that PointsBet signed with NBC–which also included nearly five percent equity in the book. BetMGM reported a second quarter loss of $72.2 million, and this is sure to impact the bottom line even further.
Sports books have become more focused these days on maintaining their customer base and increasing re-deposits, versus acquiring new customers and offering lavish bonuses. That’s what makes this move quite the gamble for BetMGM. While it is prime real estate on what the press release calls “the most-watched studio show in sports”, it’s mostly a one-game advertisement for the book. Although they feature in Berry’s daily content, I’m not sure how many people are tuning into programming on Peacock, especially with it hidden behind a paywall.
PointsBet is taking a stance that is more indicative of where the smaller books are prioritizing their spending, especially when it comes to advertising. In an interview earlier this month with Sports Business Journal, the Chief Strategy Officer for PointsBet, Eric Foote, discussed how it makes no sense for them to spend big bucks on NFL advertising when they’re paying a premium to reach customers in states where their services aren’t even offered, such as California.
Foote also stated they are “doubling down on local and regional assets,” with SBJ reporting PointsBet will spend nearly $400 million on their local NBC-owned stations and regional networks before the end of 2025. For an entity that takes in less than three percent of all sports wagers placed in the United States, this is a prudent strategy. It’s also one that you’re seeing more from other books such as BetRivers, who are prioritizing local sports radio spots over television ads on major networks.
Front Office Sports reported this weekend that GeoComply, the service used by most online sports apps to ensure a customer is within the boundaries of a state, processed more than 103 million geolocation verifications over the first four days of the NFL’s opening weekend. That’s an increase of more than 71% from last year’s opening slate, and that number will likely continue to rise in the coming years as states like Texas and California continue to discuss legalizing online sports wagering.
BetMGM is hoping that their increased presence with the NFL–which drives nearly 75% of all sports bets in the United States–will help them bring in more customers when sports wagering comes online in Ohio and Maryland at the start of the year. While their aggressive move will absolutely make the weekly FNIA segments with Berry and Simms more appealing to bettors, I’m not certain it’s going to mean much in the long term. With FanDuel’s market share continuing to increase every month and multiple smaller books fighting over the scraps, it remains to be seen just how successful of a gamble this really is.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.