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FOX Delivers A Masterclass With All-Star Game Production

FOX pulled out all the stops to make the broadcast look spectacular.

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An All-Star Game in Los Angeles called for it to look like a “Hollywood production”. Bells, whistles, sky cams and microphones galore. This production won’t be coming soon to a theater near you, it came your way, live in HD or 4K if you were streaming, a couple of nights ago on FOX. It wasn’t Top Gun: Maverick but then again it wasn’t Lightyear either. It fell somewhere in-between. There were more things about the telecast on FOX that I liked than ones that I didn’t enjoy all that much. 

The All-Star Game used to be appointment TV back in the day. It was a competitive game, even when it didn’t mean anything, just flashback to the 1970 game, when Pete Rose bowled over the late Ray Fosse to win the game for the National League. That day isn’t here anymore. After the nonsense of the game determining homefield advantage for the World Series, it’s returned to what it should be, an exhibition game. A chance for baseball to showcase its stars and future stars in unique ways.  

It was the first time Joe Davis sat behind the mic as the main man for MLB on FOX coverage of the All-Star Game. He and John Smoltz did a nice job, allowing the game and the players to be the star. I enjoy the easy-going manner in which Davis calls a game. He’s not over the top, or without emotion, Davis is pretty spot-on for what a national call should sound like.

There is a built-in chemistry between Davis and Smoltz, having worked together in the past on baseball broadcasts. Davis sounded comfortable, prepared and in control of the broadcast. He and Smoltz were having fun, as they should, in an All-Star game. They handled the in-game and on-field interviews very well.  

FOX pulled out all the stops to make the broadcast look spectacular. They added a second FLYCAM. The second ‘camera on a wire’ showed us the L.A. skyline and views of Dodger Stadium. All in all, FOX used 45 cameras and over 75 microphones in the broadcast. 

It was shot well, considering the ‘twilight’ situation at that hour in Los Angeles. Shadows over home plate but bright sunshine in the outfield can be tricky to televise at times, but I think FOX handled it well. It wasn’t so much about the visual for me, it was more about the audio that intrigued me and glued me to the television for a lot of the game. 

Before the game broadcast, Joe Carpenter, the A1 for FOX Sports told SVG News, the goal was, bring fans closer to the action. 

“We’re trying to get more players to wear microphones, but we still encounter resistance,” says Carpenter. “I get it; they (players) can be a bit superstitious. But there’s tremendous entertainment value in hearing an outfielder talking with Joe Davis or John Smoltz in the booth. We will get some of that, but how much we never know until game time. The players’ union does not give any kind of blanket permission to mike up players.”

That last statement was interesting to me. I did a little research and found that the NFLPA has a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that basically requires players to wear a mic if NFL Films requests them to wear one. MLB’s CBA only states “miking a catcher, first baseman, and one or more outfielders playing in the All-Star Game will be encouraged by the Players Association”. The players FOX did mic up, didn’t disappoint. 

It wasn’t the fact that FOX was able to convince players to wear the mic, it was that they were talking to them as they were pitching, hitting or fielding. To me it shows that the players who let the audience ‘behind the curtain’ are truly All-Stars, for not being hesitant or distracted by the moment. 

Many exchanges were simply terrific. I’ll highlight a few, but the best one to me was Blue Jays’ pitcher Alek Manoah, who struck out the side in the bottom of the 2nd inning, while wearing a mic. He was conversing with Joe Davis and John Smoltz the entire inning. He simply seemed like he was having the time of his life. 

It started with a strikeout of the Cubs’ Willson Contreras on a 94-mph sinker, he yelled, “Here we go! There’s one.” 

Next up was Joc Pedersen, who couldn’t catch up to a 93-mph sinker at the top of the zone, with Manoah to screaming: “Here we go! There’s two.”

When Jeff McNeil, the third batter, swung through a 95-mph fastball on his hands, Manoah said: “By you! Here we go!” When Manoah feathered a sinker over the inside corner for strike two: “Yeah, baby. Front door. Don’t flinch!” He hit McNeil on a nasty 0-2 slider, thus was unable to sit down his National League opponents in order due to a miscall from Smoltz, who told him to throw that backfoot slider to McNeil. 

But Manoah recovered while facing Ronald Acuna Jr, with a 1-2 count he asked for more advice from Smoltz. 

“John,” Davis said, “what have you got for him on 1-2?”

“Make this slider look like a strike on the outside corner and make it disappear off the corner,” Smoltz said.

“I’m thinking a slider, too,” Manoah said, “but I think if I execute a good heater up, because he’s seen the sinker twice, something that stays true, might throw him off a bit. Think we’re gonna go with that.”

The fastball was straight at 94 mph. It wasn’t high. And that was fine. Acuna whiffed for Manoah’s third punchout of the inning. “Right down the middle, but we’ll take it,” Manoah said. “Three punchies. Let’s goooo. Wooooo! That’s a hell of a bullpen right there. Let’s go win a ballgame.”

GOLD! Absolute gold. Sometimes it’s not about featuring the ‘star’ players, but the ones that have the personality to carry it off. Many folks probably didn’t know about Manoah before Tuesday Night’s game, but they do now. That whole inning was amazing television. 

The pitcher/catcher relationship is often talked about on baseball broadcasts and Tuesday night it was on display for all to see. FOX mic’d up both Yankees’ pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr and catcher Jose Trevino. They called pitches verbally via a two-way conversation in the sixth inning. The battery faced Mets’ slugger Pete Alonso in the inning and Cortes gave an inside look about what pitchers think of ‘the polar bear’. 

“He can hit it a long way if you don’t hit your spot,” (Joe)Davis warned Cortes after Alonso fouled off a 2-2 fastball. 

“That’s for sure,” Cortez replied. “You gotta be careful. He’s up there in power. Top five (in MLB) for sure.”

The whole idea of being able to hear the thinking between the pitcher and catcher with Alonso in the box was awesome. 

“Heater away,” Cortes said at one point, only to miss his spot but make a tough pitch inside that Alonso fouled off.

“Or up and in,” he said with a laugh. “Good spot to miss, though.”

When the count went to 3-2, in fact, the Yankee lefty clearly wasn’t going to throw one down the middle and give up a game-tying home run. “Let’s go sidearm fastball,” he said to Trevino. And then he dropped down and threw a crossfire fastball that was low, walking Alonso in his only plate appearance on the night. 

Trevino was still mic’d up when he came to bat the next inning. “Wow, I can’t believe I’m an All-Star, man. This is unreal.” was all he could say. How real is that? Extremely. Then he collected a base hit. He asked for the ball and was able to get it. We heard it all too, that was fantastic. 

There were a bunch of other great mic’d up moments as well, Liam Hendriks asking Julio Rodriguez to give him the ball from the only out he’d record. “JULIO!!” you could hear Hendriks scream. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge were wearing microphones at the same time in the outfield too. 

One moment I could have done without, was David Ortiz taking over the AL dugout in the 5th. It was way too frenetic to me. He was loud and sometimes hard to pick up. Ortiz talked to Miguel Cabrera, Manoah and then to manager Dusty Baker. Big Papi asked: “Hey Dusty … can you put me in, man? I can go deep for you.”

“I’m gonna save you ’til the ninth, just in case we’re behind,” Baker responded. It was just a little too much for me. 

On a scale of strikeout to homer, I’d give the FOX broadcast of the All-Star game a solid double to the gap. 

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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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