They must not have expected Serena Williams to win.
That was my thought after watching the ceremony that followed her opening-round victory Monday at the U.S. Open. Gayle King hosted, Billie Jean King spoke and Oprah narrated a testimonial that played along with her career highlights.
Then on Wednesday, that same montage played. Again. This time following her upset of the second-ranked player in the women’s field, and while I can understand why the piece might be shown again at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center for those in attendance, it’s a pretty sorry programming decision by ESPN to follow up Wednesday’s match with a rerun. The network could have shown highlights of the match and could have offered analysis. It could have interviewed random spectators about what it felt like and that would have been more timely, more impactful, and less repetitive than replaying the same montage with the same narration that played at the same time two nights earlier.
But this is just a symptom of a larger problem. We’re terrible at goodbyes in this business. Just awful. They get so steeped in hyperbole, sweetened by exaggeration and everyone gets so caught up trying to deliver some poetic summary of an athlete’s accomplishments that it either cheapens the whole thing or worse, build it into something it is not.
Now, that’s not the case with Serena Williams, whose greatness as a player is matched only by her importance to the sport. But do you remember how Chris Collinsworth droned on and on about Ben Roethlisberger last year? He piled up the praise to the point that Roethlisberger was being cast as this virtuous and brave hero. It was so over the top that some Pittsburgh fans with Roethlisberger jerseys might have rolled their eyes. No mention that two women said they were sexually assaulted by Roethlisberger. No mention of the obvious erosion in Roethlisberger’s play the past few years. Just non-stop puffery until the description bore only a vague resemblance to the actual person being described.
I can see how that sort of thing happens. A story is coming to a clear conclusion, and the crowd’s excitement underscores the significance. It is tempting to try and capture that person’s place in history. There’s a phrase for this in writing: purple prose. It describes an overly ornate style that draws attention because it is so extravagant, and it is the domain of the self-indulgent.
So here’s a tip any time you find yourself piling up superlatives trying to capture a moment: Focus on the actual game. Talk about how the player is performing or how they performed. Describe the crowd.
Talk about what’s happening, and if that provides an opportunity to contrast the current reality with what the player will be remembered for, do it, but this isn’t a funeral. We don’t need you to eulogize anyone, and for the love of God do not recycle highlight reels because that just makes the whole thing feel cheap.
There are no laws that keep an NFL player from releasing a player said to have committed a crime. It seems this needs to be spelled out given the phrasing that accompanied reports that the Bills were planning to release punter Matt Araiza after he was named in a civil lawsuit that was filed by a woman who said Araiza was one of three men to sexually assault her.
This makes it sound like there are laws restricting the actions the Bills could take with regard to his employment. There were not. Law enforcement has no role in what is an employment issue here, and if the Bills are making sure to follow the league’s rules or the collective-bargaining agreement it’s to avoid financial liability and not because they’re complying with some law.
The Bills were informed in July of the complaint against Araiza, and they did not act when the case became public with the filing of a lawsuit. That was a choice by the franchise because while our criminal-justice system is predicated on the presumption of innocence, employers do not have to be beholden to that standard. The Bills did release Araiza, something the team announced via Twitter.
While we’re on this subject, the same principal applies when someone declines to comment, citing ongoing legal proceedings. This is a personal decision, not a legal obligation. You’re allowed to talk about any investigation, charge or even an ongoing trial unless a judge specifically prohibits. So the next time you see a player saying he’d love to talk about it, but can’t, know that they’re just following the advice of their own lawyer as opposed to being a dutiful law-abiding citizen.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at [email protected].
Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”
Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.
“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”
Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.
Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”
The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans?
Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!
“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”
Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled.
According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage.
“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”
Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.
“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’
“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones
There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.
In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.
The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.
Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”
Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.
Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.
When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.
We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.
Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.
If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.
We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.
I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things. There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].
Expanded College Football Playoff Media Rights Will Price Out Fans From Attending Games
Who doesn’t want to spend their retirement chasing a championship across America? If you don’t mind that, do I have a deal for you!
Everything I wrote last week about the new College Football Playoff deal with ESPN, forget all that…maybe. Last week’s report of a multibillion dollar deal for a total of eight years of playoff games was premature, that is according to the reports of CBS Sports college football insider Dennis Dodd. Sources tell Dodd that MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher circulated a memo to his conference athletics directors saying the committee has yet to review a draft of the deal. That committee is made up of the college football conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletics director.
First off, I would bet my life savings that two of those conference commissioners have reviewed the deal. Nobody is more powerful in the college sports landscape than SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey (who oversees a conference that is business partners with ESPN). Thinking he and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti have not seen ESPN’s bid is a bridge too far for me. Second, many in the media world have speculated that ESPN may be the only bidder. In that case, if you have or haven’t seen the deal, it is probably the deal no matter what.
All of that is irrelevant to what I am writing about today. The fact remains that someone will cut a deal with the College Football Playoff and it will be a big one. That is the issue as it pertains to the fans. Television dollars run the sport, this is nothing new. But the television dollars spent on the College Football Playoff are running the fans out of the stadiums. As a primer for those who have forgotten, the top four seeds get byes in round one, seeds five through twelve will play on the campus of the higher seeded team. The quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will be played at a neutral site.
That is the problem for the average fan. For purposes of this discussion, let’s work off the final AP Top 25 of the 2023 season. Ohio State finished 11-2 and was ranked #10, they have a massive fan base and would be among the favorites in any College Football Playoff even with an 11-2 record. That massive fan base travels as well as any group of fans in the sport. No matter where the Buckeyes play, they have fans. We are about to see what those fans would have to pay if Ohio State gets hot.
Round One: Ohio State at Oregon, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon. The Buckeyes draw the seventh seeded Ducks in one of the tougher environments in the game. The first round games are played on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas, who has plans then? On Expedia, I am able to book a round trip United Airlines flight from Columbus, Ohio to Portland, Oregon for $357, heck of a deal. I’ll, conservatively, add $200 for a rental car for my trip and all I have left is my hotel costs. An average hotel in Eugene goes for about $200 per night so I sleep for $400. Total Cost (before tickets): $957.00
Quarterfinals: Ohio State versus Texas, AllState Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, Louisiana. The quarterfinals and semifinals are played in the New Year’s Six Bowl Games, I am assuming the selection committee rewards Texas with a site close to Austin so the Buckeyes are off to The Big Easy. Delta flies us to Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans for a round trip cost of $561, we spend $100 on Uber (New Orleans is very walkable) but we can’t save on hotel rooms. New Year’s in New Orleans is not cheap, we spend $300 a night to sleep soundly.
Total Cost (before tickets): $1,261.00, Grand Total: $2,218.00
Semifinals: Ohio State versus Washington, Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas. Since we are going to DFW, American Airlines is our best bet this time, we fly round trip for $497. We drop another $200 on our rental and the average Dallas hotel is around $250 a night. We didn’t break the bank but this is adding up very quickly and, as a reminder, we have yet to buy a single ticket.
Total Cost (before tickets): $1,197.00, Grand Total: $3,415.00
Finals: Ohio State versus Michigan, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia. If you fly to Atlanta, you fly Delta. I live in Birmingham, every Southerner knows that, if you die in the South, you have a layover in Atlanta on the way to Heaven. Our round trip flight goes for $504 and we Uber in downtown Atlanta for $100. The good news is there are tons of really good hotels walkable to Mercedes-Benz. The bad news is they are not cheap for big events. You are looking at a minimum of $400 per night.
Total Cost (before tickets): $1,504.00, Grand Total: $4,919.00
Before we have eaten our first bite of food, before we have paid a single dollar for a seat, we are already out almost $5,000.00 per person. The expanded College Football Playoff works for television but has priced out the average fan. Who doesn’t want to spend their retirement chasing a championship across America? If you don’t mind that, do I have a deal for you!
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.