It qualifies as an extreme irony that the LIV Golf Tour has found a television home on a network that has a show named Prodigal Son. It is perfect, actually. The upstart golf tour, bankrolled by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, announced a multi-year broadcast and streaming agreement with the CW Network last week. The Nexstar Media Group Network will stream Friday rounds on their app and weekend rounds will air live on The CW.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son, it is a story told by Christ of a son who spurns the known comfort of his father’s business to chase wealth and prosperity in another city. That’s the Biblical version, anyway, I’ve no clue what The CW version is like. In the end, the destitute son returns to the open arms of his loving father. The LIV Tour hopes this CW deal is another step to avoid destitution.
I doubt the PGA Tour would be willing to play the role of the loving father.
LIV organizers had made no secret of their desire to find a more traditional media arrangement. Their entire U.S. distribution model in their inaugural season was a live stream on YouTube. The channel attracted more than 272,000 subscribers in less than a year and the live streams of their early tournaments attracted anywhere from 440,000 to 850,000 views. Football season was not kind, however, as views dropped significantly for the September and October events.
Not even the most passionate LIV Tour apologist would try to convince you their product came anywhere close to approaching that of the PGA Tour. No reasonable person expected that to be the case in year one, and maybe not even in decade one. But it is clear the LIV Tour thinks a more traditional media rights arrangement is the way to go. I, for one, will be stunned if the round-one viewership increases year-to-year.
In the inaugural season, the LIV first rounds averaged 307,500 views on their YouTube channel. The CW app has been downloaded 90 million times, but I’ve seen more white-spotted leopards than phones with a CW app. I can’t imagine more people will find the LIV Friday rounds on a CW app than would have on the LIV controlled YouTube channel. We may never know the numbers, even for Saturday and Sunday rounds, because The CW is only rated for two hours a day.
None of that matters to the LIV Tour, this has never been a money-making venture. This has always been about two things, ego and public relations. Organizers made massive guarantees to some of the sport’s biggest names in an effort to build a brand that would make Saudi Public Investment Fund headlines for only positive reasons. Tournaments didn’t have valuable title sponsors and the YouTube presentations didn’t have paid commercials. None of that was the goal.
The fact we may never see ratings for The CW’s coverage of the LIV means we may never be able to gauge any sort of LIV growth as it relates to the PGA Tour. Though they may pluck other big names from the PGA, the LIV Tour has very likely stolen the biggest names they will ever get. So, why leave the platform that allowed you to completely control content and hand it over to The CW? That’s the question that puzzles me.
On YouTube, the LIV Tour fully controlled their production. The negative to that is there’s no programming around you to deliver an audience. You start at zero for every round. At least CBS or NBC has something, anything, leading into their PGA Tour telecasts. Many times, it is other sports programming. At this moment, the LIV will be the only sports going on The CW. You’ll be catching the LIV after DC’s Stargirl or another episode of World’s Funniest Animals.
Maybe it is the skeptic in me, but I don’t see a ton of crossover in those audiences. Again, that has never been the LIV’s goal but nobody spends that kind of money and doesn’t want to be viewed as the best at what they do. I have to think the Saudi Public Investment Fund isn’t in this long term to be viewed as an insignificant gnat circling the PGA Tour. They must feel as though a more traditional rights deal with any network is a step further along.
It is wholly possible that fewer people see the LIV Golf product moving forward than saw it on YouTube. If that is the case, the LIV might appear on a different The CW show: Coroner.
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.
HBO Is Letting Bomani Jones Define Late Night Sports Talk
Programs like this always evolve. Fortunately, HBO is giving Jones the opportunity to define a late-night sports program.
HBO’s second season of Game Theory with Bomani Jones debuted Friday night in a new timeslot and with a different lead-in than the show’s initial six-episode run last spring.
Game Theory now follows the popular Real Time with Bill Maher, which may not have the pop culture resonance of a prestige TV series like The Last of Us but is similar in content, tone, and intent. More viewers also tend to watch Maher’s program on Friday night because of its topicality with current events than a serialized show that people can watch at their convenience or perhaps even wait to binge-view later.
Bomani Jones also returns with his show during a more exciting, more engaging time on the sports calendar during the NFL playoffs and the lead-up to the Super Bowl. That allows the show to establish itself, register with viewers, and find its footing as attention turns toward the climax of the college basketball and NBA seasons.
(Season 1 launched last year approximately a month after Super Bowl LVI, when many sports fans might be taking a breather after devoting five months of Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays to football. And as popular as March Madness can be with diehard and casual fans filling out brackets, it doesn’t draw the same intense interest and devotion that the NFL does. Nor does the beginning of the NBA and NHL playoffs, or the Major League Baseball season.)
Whether or not those scheduling changes benefit Game Theory will be seen in the weeks to come, of course. (Season 2 is scheduled to run for 10 weeks.) But viewers returning to the show or watching for the first time will see a more confident production that carries itself like something that belongs on HBO, not lucky to be there or experimenting with late-night sports content.
Friday’s debut episode began with “people on the street” interviews, a feature that sets Game Theory apart from its sports media peers by talking with people and getting their thoughts, not talking at them. We don’t see much of the average person on sports TV. And some of the people Jones talks to aren’t even sports fans. Either they’re entertaining or they provide an opportunity for Jones to say something smart and funny.
(Well, OK — in the opening segment, Jones dominated the conversation by talking about the current lack of fighting in the NBA compared to the 1980s. But the topic, along with the black-and-white photography, was attention-grabbing for anyone who either just left their TV on HBO after Real Time or was deciding whether to watch or not.)
Following the intro, Jones took full advantage of Game Theory airing in January by talking about the NFL — particularly the success of mobile quarterbacks in the playoffs and Tom Brady struggling because he’s afraid to get hit at this point of his career. Maybe that first point was hurt a bit by Josh Allen and Daniel Jones losing over the weekend, but the larger observation of how NFL quarterback play has evolved definitely still applies.
The centerpiece of Game Theory‘s Season 2 debut was an essay on the apparent advent of player empowerment in the NBA. At first glance, it appears that players control the path of their careers more than they ever have. But do they really? NBA stars have pushed to be traded to better situations or for their teams to make impact additions in recent years.
Yet as Jones points out, these players don’t really have more authority over their careers than their predecessors. LeBron James might embody the idea of player empowerment, but the Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the No. 12 standing in the NBA’s Western Conference, four spots back from a playoff seed.
Sure, LeBron is being paid $44 million this season and his impending free agency puts the Lakers’ front office on notice to build a championship team around him. But those circumstances work well for him. He hasn’t elevated the power of his fellow players. With astute observations, Jones pulls pieces out of the “player empowerment” until it collapses.
Yes, Jones has far more time than his sports TV peers for in-depth commentary that explores an issue, highlights facts, and dismisses presumptions. It’s similar to how John Oliver can take a deep dive into a topic like housing discrimination on Last Week Tonight, rather than moderate a two-minute exchange between panelists arguing either side. Providing Jones with that platform is Game Theory‘s strength.
Season 2’s debut episode wasn’t perfect. FS1’s Nick Wright is entertaining but didn’t make for as strong an interview as previous guests including Stephen A. Smith, Roy Wood Jr., and Dawn Staley. Bringing on a fellow TV pundit nudged the segment close to what’s seen on daytime sports TV. And it might have been fun to see a segment like last season’s “The Boys in Blue” comedy sketch about Mike Krzyzewski’s legacy at Duke.
But it’s probably smart for Game Theory not to show everything while opening a new season. Save something good for later. Keep the viewers coming back for more. What seems most assuring about this second season after watching one episode is that the show is finding its voice.
Programs like this always evolve. Longtime Bill Maher fans might remember that Real Time used to have stand-up comedy segments and commentary from Paul F. Tompkins. But the show whittled itself down and became stronger for it. Last Week Tonight had to set itself apart from Oliver’s previous gig on The Daily Show. Fortunately, HBO is giving Jones the opportunity to define a late-night sports program and he’s not dropping the ball.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Sweeny Murti Combined His Passions at WFAN
From the time he was young, Sweeny Murti had a penchant for baseball and, by the time he was in junior high school, radio. He was able to find a way to combine his two passions by working in sports media, reporting on the New York Yankees on WFAN for the last 22 seasons as the station’s official beat reporter.
Murti, 52, announced his departure from the radio station last Friday, officially ending a chapter of his career as he seeks to figure out just what comes next. Sports radio, though, was never Murti’s goal because it is something that was nonexistent until later in his teenage years – although he was covering sports for his high school on its radio station WMSS-FM.
Murti learned the game of baseball by listening to Philadelphia Phillies games and had a profound amount of respect for the team broadcasters, including Harry Kalas, Andy Musser, Chris Wheeler, and Richie Ashburn. He later had an opportunity to work with the organization as a pregame and postgame show host in 1999, sparking his interest to aim to report on baseball regularly for WFAN. Getting to New York – the largest media market in the United States – took persistence and hard work, staying grounded in the day-to-day while continuously improving his craft and advocating his interests to executives.
“I listened to Phillies games growing up on radio and the announcers were just as big [of] people to me as the players,” Murti said. “Those were the guys that were in my house every night.”
Murti joined his junior high school radio station at the age of 12 and gained interest in broadcasting sports. He subsequently began to work with sports director John Wilsbach. Through his time at the radio station, Wilsbach knew Murti’s older brother (who was also working at the broadcast outlet) and helped mentor Murti, teaching him how to broadcast games by letting him shadow various sporting events.
By the time he was in ninth grade, Murti was the station’s sports director and was regularly broadcasting high school football and basketball games. He recognized the palpability of pursuing a career in sports media at this point and, consequently, matriculated at Penn State University to study broadcast journalism.
Unlike many college students seeking to work in media though, Murti’s involvement with campus media outlets, specifically in radio, was minimal. Because of his relationship with Wilsbach, he became connected with Scott Geesey, a talk show host on 1390 WRSC-AM.
Through Geesey, Murti began to converse with that outlet’s sports director Jerry Fisher, the son of legendary Penn State Nittany Lions’ football broadcaster and associate athletic director Fran Fisher. After just one meeting with Fisher, Murti was hired as a part-time assistant, giving him exposure to a professional radio station in his freshman year of college.
“I did a lot of scoreboard updates and a lot of production shifts and DJ shifts,” Murti said. “By that fall, I was doing Friday night high school football scoreboard shows and covering some games, and working on our massive Saturday football coverage on pregame and postgame shows for Penn State football…. We spent a lot of our time talking about sports, and I spent a lot of it thinking about talking about sports and how it was going to translate into my radio career.”
In the summer before his senior year, Murti relocated to New York and worked as an intern at WFAN, the inaugural radio station in the sports talk format that had just launched four years earlier. Over the nearly three months, he worked from the outlet’s Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens and demonstrated a strong work ethic.
In his mind, everyone at the station had an immense base of knowledge when it came to sports and displaying your own expertise would not impress the personnel. Although he was interning at a growing media outlet with hosts including Mike Francesa, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Don Imus, and Steve Somers, Murti remained optimistic there would be an on-air role for him one day and quickly adjusted to life in “the Big Apple.”
“It’s a pretty big leap and I’d never spent more than a couple of days in New York; now I’m spending the whole summer in New York,” Murti said. “I wasn’t overwhelmed; I knew I’d already been doing a lot of things in radio so this was [at] a much bigger scale, obviously. I was comfortable and I think I was confident in what I could do.”
Following this experience, Murti returned to Penn State University for his senior year with a new perspective on sports radio. Once he graduated, he began working as a reporter at WHP 580 and as a sports anchor at the Radio PA Network. Before he returned to New York as a full-time producer at WFAN exactly one year later in 1993, he received a valuable piece of advice from news director Bill Richardson. It reminded Murti of a principle critical to the success of athletes, managers and reporters alike and continues to guide him to this day.
“The advice he left me with was, ‘It’s only radio. If you screw it up, just come back and do it again tomorrow,’” Murti recalled. “I’ve never forgotten it [and] some version of that pops into my head quite often. I think I amended that a little bit to say, ‘Listen, let me just do the job today and I’ll figure out how to do it again tomorrow.’”
Murti always sought to be a voice on the air and was placed out of his element in his role as a producer. Through working with established on-air hosts and reporters, including Steve Somers, Suzyn Waldman, Howie Rose, and Ian Eagle, Murti gained an understanding of the responsibility garnered upon them. In order to succeed in the marketplace, the hosts had to be informative and entertaining to sports fans, overseeing a place where fans could express their emotions and convey their opinions about the teams and players they cared about.
“I learned what kind of preparation it takes [and] what kind of personality it takes,” Murti said. “I was a good on-air personality, I thought, when I was in high school and college. This was just a different world; a different level that I was learning and soaking in.”
While Murti did not feel apprehensive about working in the New York-metropolitan area, he was unsure about producing on a full-time basis, leading him to have several conversations with executive producer Eric Spitz.
Nonetheless, Murti absorbed a large amount of information and picked up on intricacies related to producing and stood out. As a result, he was afforded the opportunity to travel with Spitz and his crew at Westwood One Radio to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. That experience, quite simply, changed everything, as Murti realized he had the ability to transition from being a producer into a bonafide reporter.
“I got done with those couple of weeks and realized, ‘Wow, I can do what those guys are doing,’” Murti articulated. “It wasn’t, ‘I’m better than that guy.’ I [just] somehow thought this was a different level of something that was higher than me, and after working with them and being around them and helping them do these things, I realized I would be able to do that job just as well as they were because that’s the kind of confidence I had and I knew I’d be prepared for that.”
One year later, Murti joined SportsRadio 94 WIP in Philadelphia to become a full-time sports anchor and had the chance to regularly go on-air. After working at the station for a year, he returned to WFAN and was placed on the air, albeit in a part-time role, doing overnight updates. He also returned to the Summer Olympics in 2000, this time in Sydney, Australia, working with Westwood One Radio as a reporter.
Leading up to the World Series between the New York Mets and New York Yankees in that same year, WFAN reshuffled its midday show. Russ Salzberg and Steve Somers were moved out of the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot in exchange for Jody McDonald and Suzyn Waldman. Because of Waldman’s new role hosting middays and doing television work with the Yankees, her role as the station’s beat reporter for the team opened. Since Murti was working overnight shifts, he made sure to stay early into the morning one day to meet with Mark Chernoff, then-program director of WFAN (he would often arrive for work at approximately 6 a.m. each morning).
Once he made his intention known to Chernoff, he scribbled Murti’s name down on a pad of paper and had other people advocating for him to land the job around the station. Around the time of the Christmas party, Murti received the news that he had landed the job – very much representative of his dream role – and prepared for the upcoming spring training in Tampa. Waldman proved to be a vital resource for Murti to learn the role, accessible both by phone and at the ballpark.
“She helped me kind of work through the early stuff,” Murti said. “After a little while, I just tried to figure it out on my own. I wanted to lean on her to get myself going, but I didn’t want to constantly lean on her. I kind of wanted to see how I could figure it out myself at that point. It was great getting to figure it out with her to start and then kind of going off on my own.”
Murti had been on the air from the time he was in high school and was cognizant of his long-term goals. Combining his adoration for baseball and skillset in reporting was his ultimate intent – and he was fortunate that the timing worked out.
“Those jobs were kind of created,” Murti said. “I didn’t know they existed. I can’t tell you that was a goal; I just knew I wanted to be the play-by-play announcer for the Phillies when I was 13 years old. That was my goal but I didn’t go do Minor League Baseball play-by-play when I was 22. I came to FAN and moved on that track.”
Walking into the clubhouse for the first time in Tampa, Murti knew not to expect to immediately foster deep relationships with any of the players and uncover concealed stories. Instead, he focused on the long game, gradually cultivating dialogue and learning the vernacular to become familiar with the team. He expected this role to last much longer than one season and segmented the process by piecemeal.
“I think that I had the idea of hoping to get to do this for a while so let’s just take it slow,” he recalled. “Let’s just not try to talk to Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams every day about something that’s going to make me be their confidant.”
Through performing his role, Murti observed the quotidian routines and habits of the great players – and the Yankees, coming off a stretch of four championships in five years, knew how to optimize their play to get results conducive to success. Murti was able to apply some of those lessons to his own craft as a journalist, keeping him focused and motivated to perform.
“The great ones put yesterday behind them very quickly whether they had a great game or a bad game,” Murti said. “That’s probably where watching Jeter up close really mattered because he was so good at that. He would be pissed off if he made outs or [if] they lost a game, but he wasn’t smashing water coolers like Paul O’Neill or throwing things. It was just, ‘Okay, listen, that’s over. Let’s focus on the next one.’”
Murti focused on both the trials and tribulations of the players, but always looked at the macro (team) rather than the micro (individuals). To him, the big picture was most important and taking each result in stride – just as a well-balanced team establishing and maintaining a winning culture aims to do. It helped him create a style – one that transferred from radio to television to writing. Murti endeavored in all three over his time as WFAN’s Yankees beat reporter, a job he exited last week.
Over his time as a reporter, Murti has contributed to programming on MLB Network, YES Network, and SNY among other networks. The production tactics and time constraints in television contrasted with radio – in fact, Murti likened it to being a cog part of a larger system to execute a play in football – and it gave him different methods in which to present his reports.
“The teammate aspect of what I used to do at FAN is definitely something I loved and appreciated,” Murti explained, “but there are a lot more moving parts to television that make you rely on other people’s help to make everything look and sound better.”
He also had the ability to live out his dream doing play-by-play announcing in a Major League Baseball game when filling in for Yankees’ radio voice John Sterling. With Waldman as his color commentator, Murti brought fans the action in the Yankees’ matchup against the Houston Astros as family and friends listened from his hometown. He did not view the assignment, for which he volunteered, as an audition; instead, it was more about embracing and making the most of a unique opportunity.
“I think I brought a lifetime of caring about being on the radio and loving watching baseball,” Murti said. “I think I bring that every night; I hope I brought [it] that night to a degree that satisfied everybody. It was just a thrill beyond belief.”
Whether it was watching the Yankees win the World Series in 2009; writing articles about the team and its players for WFAN’s website; or hosting various podcasts, Murti thoroughly enjoyed his time at the station. Just as the landscape of media has endured rapid evolution and realignment, the role of a beat reporter was analogously shifting – leading to Murti’s departure from WFAN last week.
“We tried for a long time to figure out how to evolve and create the different content that would click,” Murti said. “It just became harder to accomplish, I guess. I’m grateful that it lasted as long as it did.”
The nature of working in radio has drastically adapted amid a marketplace saturated with an overabundance of content and platforms on which to consume it. As a result, radio faces a maelstrom of competition from media outlets and, nowadays, independent creators disseminating their work. Yet it still remains a medium based on a communal aspect, representing and implementing the authentic voice of the fan as an outlet of both catharsis and jubilation.
“Even though a lot is consumed individually through phones now and through social media, to hear the actual voices and the emotions in those voices – good or bad; high or low – it’s still something you can’t duplicate on social media,” Murti said. “You’ve got to come to the radio to be a part of that. That’s something I hope never goes away.”
The greatest compliment Murti could have ever received was a listener remaining in their car to finish hearing one of his reports – and he hopes to continue to be able to fuse baseball and journalism together in whatever his next role may be. Amid a post-WFAN world, he looks to continue bringing viewers the story and create new memories, utilizing his versatility to be an asset to any media brand.
“I enjoy lots of stuff,” Murti said. “I do enjoy writing and I hope I still get to do some of that. I enjoy the TV work; I love interviewing people and getting to tell those stories. It’s a really big thrill turning on a microphone, wherever that is, and telling people what’s happening. I hope I still get to do that.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
FOX or Football? Tom Brady Doesn’t Have an Obvious Choice
“After Jayron Kearse picked Brady’s pass off in the end zone in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s playoff loss to Dallas, it looked like the GOAT had resigned himself to just running out the clock and going home.”
What does the future hold for Tom Brady? No one can say they know for sure. I think we can all agree that after seven Super Bowl titles in 23 NFL seasons, he has more than earned a little time to make up his mind.
Most of us believe there are three options. He can return to Tampa, return to the NFL with a new team, or he can take the $375 million behind door number three and spend his future game days in the booth on FOX. Depending on how you feel about Brady’s 2022 season, there are either no bad options or only bad options.
Let me put all my cards on the table. I grew up a Buccaneers fan. While I don’t have any strong feelings about Tom Brady himself, I appreciate him bringing a second Super Bowl to Tampa.
Does that color my opinion when I say that I don’t think door number 3 is the answer? Maybe a little, but I’m not clamoring for him to return to the Bucs in 2023 either.
Broadcasting is a grind. The guys in the booth do as much prep for their jobs each week as the guys on the field. It’s not like being in FOX’s top NFL booth would be akin to a permanent vacation.
Tom Brady has always been an interesting case study. There haven’t been very many seasons where we looked at him and said “that is the best quarterback in the NFL,” yet there is no denying that he is the greatest to ever play the position. So, when I say this is the first year he really looked human on a football field, know that I know that statement is a bit wonky.
The Buccaneers are two years removed from winning the Super Bowl. They are a year removed from having the best regular season record in the league. This year, it looked like they won their division simply because, Jesus Christ! Someone had to.
Everything about Brady and the Bucs was joyless in 2022. He threw more tablets than touchdowns. After Jayron Kearse picked Brady’s pass off in the end zone in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s playoff loss to Dallas, it looked like the GOAT had resigned himself to just running out the clock and going home.
Given what we know now about what was going on in Tom Brady’s personal life last year, doesn’t it paint his deal with FOX in a new context? Doesn’t it seem like it was more about trying not to be home and face reality than about feeling like he is passionate about analyzing games alongside Kevin Burkhardt in the future?
Maybe I am wrong. Like so many others that are the GOAT in their field, Tom Brady is pretty good at turning criticism into fuel. There has been no shortage of people calling his deal a trophy hire for FOX. Perhaps it isn’t an interest in broadcasting, but finding his next chance to prove the haters wrong that pushes him into the booth.
According to Jordan Schultz, Brady is not rushing into a decision. He is going to take a month to evaluate his options before deciding what he wants to do and where he wants to go.
That’s good. Maybe what he needs right now is some time to divorce himself from the grind. Just sit back and enjoy the press from the movie about the horny old ladies that follow you to the Super Bowl for a while.
The last image we have of Tom Brady on a football field is one of a man that is frustrated and tired. That cannot be the energy he brings into a broadcast booth. It isn’t fair to Kevin Burkhardt or the viewers.
One thing has been clear about Tom Brady the whole time he has been in the public eye. He is a competitor. He takes losing seriously and he takes it hard.
My untrained eye tells me that he is not capable of being the quarterback we have known since the 2001 season. Going back for a 24th season seems like a bad idea, but if he is resigning himself to television instead of coming at it with enthusiasm, FOX is not going to be happy with its investment.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.