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The Power of Likability

I’ll never forget the producer, Aaron Larsuel, saying in my ear while we were in mid-debate, “Maintain your likability.”

Brian Noe

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Ron Rivera. This guy. The Washington Commanders head coach is a great example of how likability can earn you the benefit of the doubt. Rivera hasn’t exactly crushed it in D.C. He improved to 16-23 overall after an ugly 12-7 win last Thursday against the Chicago Bears. The dreadful game will give NFL fans plenty of nightmares for years to come.

Rivera enjoyed some success in Carolina. Some. He made it to a Super Bowl as head coach of the Panthers. He lost to the Denver Broncos though. Rivera only had three winning seasons in Carolina and was fired during his ninth season there. He also never recorded back-to-back winning seasons.

Rivera’s teams had plenty of talent. He had a league MVP in Cam Newton, an outstanding linebacker in Luke Kuechly and many other solid starters. I’m not expecting deep playoff runs and Super Bowl success year after year; I’m just asking for back-to-back winning seasons here. It hasn’t happened once for Rivera. I don’t call him Riverboat Ron based on his aggressive coaching style when it’s fourth down. I call him Roller Coaster Ron based on his inconsistent results.

Last week was strange to say the least. A reporter asked Rivera why Washington trails the other teams in its division. Rivera’s response was “quarterback.” That’s it. “Quarterback.” As if the Commanders have an All-Star team and QB is the only thing holding them back. Then, after throwing his quarterback under the bus, Rivera made fiery comments on behalf of Carson Wentz. So he’s the one who initially criticized Wentz, basically said guys like Giants QB Daniel Jones and Cowboys QB Cooper Rush were better, then got really ticked off when other people had the audacity to criticize Wentz. That’s just silly.

And don’t blame a lack of talent in Washington either. Rivera has final say on all personnel decisions. So really, when the reporter asked why other NFC East teams are better and Rivera said “quarterback,” he actually was saying “me.” Rivera is the one who traded three draft picks for an underperforming QB (who is now out 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken ring finger). It’s Rivera’s fault.

Ron Rivera is the Tim Tebow of NFL head coaches. Of course Rivera is better as a coach than Tebow was as an NFL quarterback. That isn’t the comparison I’m making. What’s similar between the two is that many people have a hard time separating the person from the performance. They admire Tebow and Rivera, and in turn, they aren’t nearly as harsh with their critiques as they are with other QBs or head coaches they don’t care about as much.

Rivera isn’t good at his job. That’s the truth. He isn’t a difference-maker. Bill Belichick is winning games with a third-string rookie quarterback and a Patriots roster that lacks top talent. The Pats have outscored opponents 67-15 the last two weeks. What do you think the chances are of Rivera doing the same?

Yet somehow it typically turns into a but-fest with Rivera. Most people make excuses on his behalf. “But Washington’s ownership is terrible. But they don’t have a great quarterback. But it was too windy and the hot dog vendor is the real problem.” But, but, but. You hardly hear any negativity directed at Rivera. Why?

The real reason Rivera isn’t widely criticized is simply because the guy is likable. He beat cancer. He’s highly respected. He seems like a really good dude and a nice guy. Hell, I like him too. A lot. But I’m not going to let that sway my opinion of what I think about his performance.

That isn’t a mainstream thought process. A lot of people start with, “Do I like this person or not?” and then start to fill in the gaps from there. It’s the reason most people used to foam at the mouth when talking about Alex Rodriguez and shrugged their shoulders when it came to David Ortiz. Both guys cheated while hitting a bunch of home runs, but Big Papi is much more likable and gets a free pass.

By the way, A-Rod got criticized when Cameron Diaz fed him popcorn at the Super Bowl. Let that sink in for a second. He got criticized for that. Do you know how awesome that is? A-Rod reached the mountaintop and got lambasted for it. Do you think Derek Jeter would’ve gotten anything but a standing ovation if the same thing happened to him? It’s all about likability. People like Jeter. A-Rod has never been remotely close to that likability level.

There are a lot of similarities in sports radio. Many listeners start with, “Do I like this host?” and then start to form their opinions about the performance from there. That’s why maintaining likability matters so much.

It reminds me of when I used to fill in for JT the Brick at FOX Sports Radio. I did some shows with Tomm Looney who is an awesome dude. Looney and I wouldn’t go at each other’s throats, but occasionally we would get wound up and animated about a subject. I’ll never forget the producer, Aaron Larsuel, saying in my ear while we were in mid-debate, “Maintain your likability.” That was one of the things he preached the most. And he was so right. Likability is vitally important.

The real question is, how do you become more likable as a host? Sure, there are things that typically work like laughing at yourself, admitting when you’re wrong and being self-deprecating. But I think the real answer is to figure out what makes you likable, and just do more of it.

People can tell when someone is intentionally doing things to be more likable. It’s unnatural. You might resemble Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson who desperately does things to be more likable and it just doesn’t work.

Instead of trying to be something you’re not, just be more of what you naturally are. Take Charles Barkley for instance. What makes the TNT analyst so likable? He’s hilarious, makes fun of himself and is unapologetically opinionated. When Barkley emphasizes those strengths even more, his likability just continues to grow. It’s a better approach than if Barkley worked to become a better interviewer or learned NBA rosters inside and out. That stuff wouldn’t make him more likable. And he knows it.

The Washington Commanders are going nowhere fast. Ron Rivera might lose his job soon. There aren’t many people that will say he should be fired because they like the guy and they’re rooting for him. The argument isn’t whether Rivera should stay or go. The real takeaway is that the power of likability can earn you a free pass when you don’t deserve it.

Lastly, consider this: Mike McCarthy is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Think of what the reaction would be if McCarthy was instead the head man in Washington with a 16-23 overall record. He would be getting crushed right now. Obliterated. He isn’t as popular or likable. That’s how it works. Rivera is a great example of how much likability matters. It can be your best friend and the asset that bails you out of tough spots. If likability works for Rivera, it can work for you too.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Podcast

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

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

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

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

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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