MLB Network Gives Former Players Platform To Shine During For World Series
“Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”
After spring training, 162 regular season games, and a mad dash through the playoffs, Major League Baseball crowns a champion after the World Series. At the conclusion of the journey, the winning team usually has a ticker-tape parade in their home city and celebrates the championship with the fans before moving on to try to do it all over again… and MLB Network is there every step of the way.
Since its launch in 2009, MLB Network has provided fans with year-round coverage from all levels of the game. MLB Tonight is the outlet’s signature program, winning seven national Sports Emmy awards for “Outstanding Daily Studio Show” through its commitment to delivering fans game highlights and analysis in unique and unparalleled ways. This includes the use of ballpark cams, live baseball demonstrations and the effective deployment of technology and implementation of presentation elements.
Along with other studio programming such as MLB Central, High Heat, MLB Now and Intentional Talk, MLB Network brings its viewers “our national pastime all the time,” and there is arguably no bigger moment for it to deliver on that commitment than during the “Fall Classic.”
MLB Network first covered the World Series in 2009 when the New York Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. While the Yankees have not made it past the American League Championship Series since that year, the Phillies are in the midst of an improbable postseason run as a wild card team that has, thus far, resulted in winning a National League pennant.
As a result, they are playing the Houston Astros in the 2022 World Series and 14 years later, coverage of baseball’s final games of the year have expanded and evolved with the game itself and media at large.
The network has a deep roster of personalities with varying experience playing and/or following baseball, including National Baseball Hall of Fame members Pedro Martínez and Jim Thome, along with Harold Reynolds, Bill Ripken, Dan Plesac, Mark DeRosa, Kevin Millar, and Sean Casey.
Moreover, the network has added analysts closely removed from their playing careers, including Hunter Pence, Alex Avila, Anthony Recker, Yonder Alonso, and Xavier Scruggs to contribute across its programming MLB Network has offered them the platform to do so whether they be an active player or recently retired from the game.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve made a conscious effort to bring in new faces that are opinionated and passionate to keep our shows fresh,” said Marc Caiafa, senior vice president of production at MLB Network. “Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”
In 2021, former Major League Baseball all-star outfielder Chris Young joined MLB Network as a studio analyst, just three years removed from playing the game professionally. Young spent the majority of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he became the first rookie to have 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a season. Since joining the network, he has appeared across its programming and is currently in Philadelphia, working on MLB Tonight broadcasts live from Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Starting in sports media was something that always intrigued Young and later in his career, he began working as a guest analyst on MLB Network to see if he would be a fit in the future. This aligns with a trend of current major league players appearing as guest analysts – which includes New York Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader and Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. stepping in the roles this postseason.
“After I retired, I ended up talking to some of the guys over at the network on getting the opportunity to kind of test the waters and see how they felt about me and see how I felt about the network and to see if it would be something that I really wanted to dig into,” Young said. “After jumping in, I’ve fallen in love with it and I love being a part of the network.”
At the conclusion of last season – Young’s first on the network – another major league outfielder retired and immediately found his way to working in sports media. Cameron Maybin finished his big league career playing for the New York Mets in the number one media market in the world.
Maybin had played in “The Big Apple” once before during a stint with the New York Yankees in 2019 where he posted an .858 OPS and brought a championship pedigree, as he had won the World Series in 2017 as a member of the Houston Astros. It was in the Bronx, when Maybin had his first thought of potentially working in sports media at the end of his career thanks to a conversation with YES Network and ESPN play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco.
Less than a decade later, he is back in Houston – this time covering the World Series with MLB Network from Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros.
“He came [up] to me after a game and he just said, ‘Hey man – after you’re done, I think you should really look into getting into some broadcasting or some type of media realm. When you’re done, I think you’d be great,’” Maybin recalled Ruocco telling him. “….At the time when he told me I said, ‘Hey, I’m good; I’m going to play for six more years. I’m good.’ And then you look up and that time flies by.
Young and Maybin played in markets large and small throughout their careers in the major leagues, but despite that still played the game well; they covered vast amounts of ground in the outfield, were intelligent hitters and caused havoc on the basepaths.
Off the diamond, they claim they had a positive relationship with media members, understanding journalists came to the ballpark with a job to do and bosses to whom they had to report.
As a result, they saw media members as people trying to help promote and spread the game of baseball, roles they themselves transitioned to when their time on the field concluded.
“Once I finished playing, I had created such good relationships with different members of the media that I was able to call them, speak directly, talk about the experience, talk about what to expect and really gain appreciation for what the media is trying to do,” Young said. “They’re trying to put the players on a pedestal and let the world hear their stories.”
“I always kind of took the mindset of being open, being transparent with them [and] trying to develop a good relationship,” Maybin added. “I also thought [that] if you develop a good relationship with the media, if you do something they might not kill you as much as they could.”
Playing professional sports has helped Young, Maybin and other athletes who have made the transition to being an analyst more relatable to the audience. When discussing sports that they have worked to perfect over a majority of their lives, they seek to share their esoteric knowledge and expertise with those interested in the game while surrounded by like-minded people.
“It’s a lot of baseball heads which is great because everybody speaks the language pretty much to where you can feel like you can be your authentic self and everybody can understand the lingo and what you’re talking about,” Young said. “….I think we put a really good product out there and give the fans something from the perspective of writers and broadcasters and players all collectively to really break the game down and show it from a lot of different lenses.”
Similar to aspiring professionals who look to work in sports media, those who undertake building a career playing sports professionally often look to others who have done it successfully for inspiration and motivation.
In baseball, many young players modeled their games based on the play of former Seattle Mariners outfielder and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Ken Griffey Jr. – nicknamed “The Kid” – who was known for his speed, power and versatility combined with his proclivity to flip his cap backwards. Griffey Jr. was also outgoing and friendly towards fans, influencing a countless number of people for more than his skills on the diamond.
Maybin affirms that he had an understanding of the responsibility of athletes that extends beyond the field both as a player and media member, which includes using their platforms to disseminate content beneficial to the team. This includes critiquing athletes – some of whom he recently called teammates and/or opponents – especially in larger markets with large amounts of attention devoted towards sports.
Working with Marquee Sports Network in Chicago as a studio analyst and with YES Network in the Bronx as a color commentator for New York Yankees live game broadcasts in addition to his role on MLB Network this past season, Maybin knew he would have to divulge genuinity in the opinions he expressed to viewers on the air.
“One thing I learned in this new broadcast realm is you have to be subjective if you want to gain credibility,” Maybin said. “….It’s just not being afraid to say what you have to say and also [showing] up where those guys can see you. My relationships outweigh any critique that I’ve had to make thus far.”
In remembering what it was like to be a professional baseball player, Young and Maybin are able to reminisce about both the good times and the bad times, recognizing the inherent volatility embedded in sports.
Becoming oblivious to the fact that making it as a professional and consistently succeeding is highly unlikely for most people threatens to diminish others’ willingness to listen to what they have to say and to consider their analyses tenable. Similarly, it contrives the possibility of media platforms to lose credibility, especially newer ones such as Apple TV+ where Young served as a color commentator on its presentation of Friday Night Baseball this past season.
“As a former player, the first thing you can never do is make the mistake of forgetting how hard the game is,” Young expressed, “and I feel like I make a valiant effort to never forget how difficult the game is.
“With that being said, yes, if there’s a play that happens or something that was done wrong and you have to be critical of it, we have to do that…. I try to stay away from placing judgment on a person’s character or something like that without fully knowing that person, which I think is the mistake that some people make at times.”
Both of the former major league outfielders have appeared in postseason action as players, but neither had covered postseason games on-site for MLB Network until this season. Being behind the desk for studio coverage on the best-of-seven series is a heralded opportunity and a chance for them to enhance the platform’s coverage by sharing modern perspectives and ideas.
“There’s only one game going on in baseball [and] that’s a huge deal for us because all the attention is on that one game,” Young said. “You just kind of enjoy the ride and react to the punches. We have no idea what’s going to happen in this World Series but…. being able to cover that is a really exciting opportunity for me.”
“You talk about what you see; you talk about your experience; you talk about what you’ve been through when you see different moments and you try to explain that and try to convey that to the crowd and the fans watching,” Maybin added. “That’s really it – it’s not too difficult; not really too in-depth. It’s about doing your homework and trying to be as prepared as possible.”
Amid a dynamic media environment where the emphasis on studio coverage is being threatened due to consumers’ desire to have complete control over their experience – made possible by over-the-top and video on demand content distribution platforms – companies have had to adapt to survive.
Yet some studio shows such as MLB Tonight have actively made adjustments from the very beginning to ensure it stays at the forefront of innovation and continues to provide viewers a stellar, appealing product. That comes not only with knowledgeable people and supportive management, but also through constant communication with all team members.
“Year after year nothing really stays the same,” Maybin said. “They’re trying to add more [and] trying to become better and I think that’s what separates the network from so many others… They’re constantly reaching out to people who work there and asking opinions [on] what they see [and] what they think we could do to make this thing be as dominant and prominent as it is.”
Young says the program reminds him of whiparound shows such as NFL RedZone and NBA CrunchTime where fans go to see the latest action around the league and get caught up on the action. In essence, it is a way for people to keep a pulse on the entirety of Major League Baseball through both live look-ins and analysis among other segments.
“I think MLB Tonight is a great show,” Young said. “I think they make adjustments on the fly just as well as anybody out there, and I feel like that’s a show that’s always going to be needed no matter where the rest of broadcasting goes or anything.”
In a 2019 study by Social Media Today, it was found that nine out of every 10 consumers value authenticity in their decision whether or not to support a brand, an ostensible reason BeReal has seen a 2245% jump in active monthly users from 921,000 to 21.6 million.
The social media platform, which has been installed over 53 million times globally, sends a notification once per day at a random time that opens a two-minute window for users to take and post live, in-the-moment photos from their front and back phone cameras.
Any posts made outside the timed window are considered to be late and subsequently time-stamped.
Surely, evolution is the matrix of sports media but even as the industry becomes more nuanced, the foundation of sports broadcasting and mission to serve the fan remains imbued in new platforms and innovations.
Today, media personalities are active on social media and engage with their audience beyond their set air time while athletes seek to shape their own narratives acting as “new media.” Through it all, authenticity represents a factor of differentiation suggesting a positive correlation between ethos and media consumption – all derived through an understanding of the audience.
“You’re getting a lot of new fans, and you want to find a way to appeal to everybody,” Young said. “I think that’s what’s happening right now…. You see different services trying to find a way to appeal to the masses while still keeping the integrity of what a broadcast booth should be and how you still want to respect the game and still call what’s going on in the game.”
“You see a lot of younger faces; a lot of guys who just recently got out of the game who bring a different perspective than some of the older guys,” added Maybin. “We’re still learning so much from those guys but I think when you look at the game you’re trying to get different viewers. I think baseball’s done a really good job of going a little bit younger right now and getting guys to give their perspectives that just got off the field.”
Chris Young and Cameron Maybin look to continue to grow working in sports media and have set goals for themselves in the future. Young recently completed his business administration degree at Arizona State University, a goal he had set when he was drafted, and will take advantage of opportunities to boost his skills as a broadcaster.
While Maybin will look to continue to work in sports media, he is not afraid to branch out to host different types of shows outside of his comfort zone similar to Nick Burleson and Michael Strahan.
As an athlete, it can be a perplexing time once the reality of retirement begins to set in and some believe working in sports media is quite tantalizing. By quickly getting started though, Young and Maybin garner fresh perspectives and relevant insight that accurately depict the mindset of players, fostering a strong connection to “our national pastime, all the time.”
“Throw yourself in it and see how you feel about it because [there’s] so much knowledge out there from players in my opinion from their experiences on the field,” Young advised. “Once they get themselves around the environment, they’ll figure out very quickly if they love it or hate it.”
“I think it’s extremely important to pass on the knowledge,” Maybin added. “You play for so many years and you develop a rapport; you learn a lot of things. You gain a lot of knowledge and I think it’s almost a disservice not to give that back.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”
Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.
“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”
Costas on the Air
Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.
“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”
When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball.
In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.
“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”
Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.
“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”
Costas on America’s Pastime
Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.
Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.
Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.
“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”
In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.
“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
Costas on Reporting
When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.
“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”
As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”
Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.
When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.
Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.
Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.
“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”
Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.
“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”
Costas on the Gridiron
Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much.
After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.
“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”
The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.
“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”
With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.
“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”
ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal, gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.
“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”
Costas on Modern Media
An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate.
CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.
Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.
While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media.
For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.
“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”
The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.
“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”
There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.
Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.
“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”
In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.
“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”
Costas on the Future
The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.
“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
There is Nothing Old School About a Human Touch in Radio Sales
“Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway.”
We are not dumb or dumber when it comes to buying radio advertising. Being a radio ad sales rep is old school to some advertising buyers. To others, we write the book on how to get advertising done. Find those clients!
The digital automated ad buying platform AudioGo described selling radio ads as old school and wrote that automated buying is smarter. I am sure that is true for some buyers who have grown up with tech and automation, namely programmatic buying, and have changed their view of a radio salesperson. They don’t see the unique value radio sales reps bring to the process.
Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway. Plenty of other local direct clients are not ready for algorithms to automate ad buys. They want a human touch, a helping hand, and the kind of expertise that no algorithm can replace. YOU. Radio salespeople add value to these types of clients. Here is why we do and how we are not the “dumb and dumber” of media of buying.
ONE-ON-ONE PERSONALIZED CONSULT
A radio salesperson offers specific solutions to meet a client’s goals with the right target audience and within their budget. We allow real-time interaction to understand the client’s business better, so we can match up the perfect advertising strategy. We are the ultimate live FAQs page. Building strong client relationships is critical. How can trust, collaboration, and a long-term partnership be created based on algorithms?
EXPERTISE AND INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
Most successful Radio salespeople have invaluable expertise and industry knowledge they picked up through years of experience. Twenty percent of the reps do eighty percent of the business. The vets know all about 6a-8a, 4p-6p, and live endorsement spots.
We get the nuances of radio advertising, like shifting audience demographics, programming trends, and effective messaging strategies. We can advise a client to make a much more informed (and time-saving) decision that can maximize the impact of their ad campaigns. No algorithm can see that.
Automated programmatic buying may offer convenience, but it isn’t too custom of a solution. We tailor advertising campaigns to meet the unique needs of each client. We take in specific target audience preferences, locations, and competitive market trends to produce effective strategies. We listen to real-time feedback and get results. Algorithms rely on predefined parameters and can’t customize.
Buying advertising can be complex, with regulations, industry standards, and market trends constantly changing. Radio salespeople have the experience to anticipate roadblocks and offer proactive solutions. Additionally, we can provide insight into budgeting, negotiation, and buying other media. Algorithms lack intuition and can’t maneuver fast enough to handle the unknown.
While automation and algorithms have their place with certain buyers, remind yourself of the value you offer clients. You provide personalized consultation, industry expertise, customized solutions, and the ability to navigate. You are indispensable to the right buyers. Now find them!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content
“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.”
There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.
Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.
“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”
There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station.
But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members.
“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”
The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story?
“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.
“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”
Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche.
But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it.
“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”
Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week.
The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio.
“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.