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Bonnie Bernstein Has Embraced Entrepreneurship

“When you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you’re doing it the right way, part of that is trying to stay on top of emerging trends – and in this case, technology.”

Derek Futterman



“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Those 37 words changed the course of United States history, providing more equitable opportunities for women like Bonnie Bernstein to immerse themselves in activities some entities previously prohibited.

Today, women comprise approximately 45% of all college athletes, and many are profiting off of their name, image and likeness through professional careers and endorsement deals. Bonnie Bernstein was one of the many beneficiaries of the decision, and it influenced her career both as an athlete and sports media professional.

Bernstein is starting a new podcast series with Audible this week called She Got Game, in which she seeks to shed light on successful women and the influence sports had on their careers.

Some of the interviewees in the 10-episode project include XFL Chairwoman and Owner Dany Garcia; NFL on CBS analyst Amy Trask; and founder and CEO of Salamander Resorts and co-founder of BET Sheila Johnson. Through conducting casual interviews, Bernstein looks to promulgate the fundamental skills women can gain from playing sports and becoming invested in them.

“For as many doors as Title IX has opened, what we also know is that girls are still exiting sports at a younger age and at a higher frequency than boys,” Bernstein said. “….Whatever the challenge may be that may have a girl or young woman thinking about leaving sports: stay. If you stay, you will continue to hone those life skills that will tee you up for success in life.”

As a student at the University of Maryland, Bernstein was an All-American gymnast, but her love of sports was fostered at home by her parents. When the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left New York City to move to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif., respectively, after the 1957 season, Bernstein’s parents quipped that they refused to watch New York Yankees baseball. Fortunately for them, “The Big Apple” received a new National League baseball team with the founding of the New York Mets in 1962 – but for Bernstein, her parents’ interest in sports subsequently helped fuel her passion. From an early age, she possessed a penchant for creative writing and tried to amalgamate it with sports, dreaming of one day writing for Sports Illustrated.

Early in her tenure as an undergraduate student, Bernstein queried other students regarding which professors they recommended studying under. Through these conversations, she found that Prof. Chet Rhodes continued to be mentioned, the instructor of an introduction to broadcasting class. By her junior year, she found herself in the classroom mesmerized by the possibilities this facet of the industry had to offer, including anchoring, producing, engineering and filming. Because of the class, she decided to focus on cultivating a career in broadcast journalism and remained eager for chances to hone her craft.

During her formative years in the industry, which began in Lewes, Delaware at WXJN-FM, a station broadcasting in the country format, Bernstein was operating without a bonafide playbook. As the news and sports director of the station, she was responsible for finding and reporting on stories around the community.

On most days, she would be at the station by 4:30 a.m. to write top of the hour updates, load carts and slice tape. Then she would spend the next several hours driving around in a white van with the station’s call letters prominently on display acting as a field reporter. By the time she returned to the station, she would refine her stories and prepare them for the afternoon news. These arduous tasks would consume her days, but gave her valuable repetitions and shaped her work ethic.

Although there were not many women in the industry, Bernstein looked up to Lesley Visser, an accomplished sports media personality and journalist who reported on many seminal events. Visser was the first woman to appear on Monday Night Football, the first woman inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first woman to earn the Sports Lifetime Achievement Award given at the Sports Emmys.

Aside from Visser, Bernstein also watched Gayle Gardner and Jayne Kennedy enter the field; however, it was hardly facile to ascertain an effective direction for her career based on looking at others. Instead, Bernstein had to forge her own path and is thankful she can pay it forward to the next generation.

“One of the nice things about being where I am in my career is that I now get to serve as the mentor for young people that I didn’t have,” Bernstein said. “I was just really flailing blindly for a long time trying to do the best I could with the hope that my desire and passion and commitment to being the very best sports journalist I could be would somehow propel me through my career.”

Beginning in any new industry is hardly an easy task, making the probability of failing much more likely. Even though Bernstein began working with ESPN as a Chicago bureau reporter just two years after leaving WXJN-FM, she always continued to learn and find ways to improve her craft. In having the chance to cover Chicago Bulls superstar and Basketball Hall of Fame member Michael Jordan, along with contributing to shows such as NFL Countdown and SportsCenter, she further augmented her versatility.

Sticking to the status quo remains something she tries to avoid, instead maintaining an alacrity for progression and innovation.

“When I was younger, I would use failure as a personal indictment on me. You are less than; you are not worthy; you are not capable. What I’ve learned through lots of conversations with entrepreneurs and strong leaders is that failure is a critical part of success. If we can shift the mindset about failure, then entrepreneurship is a much easier road to travel because there will be failures and there will be a lot of them.”

Even though she did not create her first company until 2016, one could argue that Bernstein has been an entrepreneur throughout her entire broadcast career. In essence, being a personality means establishing a brand that stands out from others, conducive to professional success and sustained growth.

On television, she was doing it from the moment she joined WMDT, a local ABC affiliate in Salisbury, Md. anchoring news on the weekends. Shortly thereafter, Bernstein made the move to KRNV, a local NBC affiliate, in Reno, Nv. where she became the first woman in the locale to serve as a weekday sports anchor.

Working as a woman in sports media, Bernstein has been the subject of criticism and misogyny and has had to find ways to cope with antagonism. She affirms that women are held to a higher standard and that it is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time. The negative commentary from others surely hurts but does not hinder. As her career has progressed, she has been able to contextualize these situations to realize that the commenters are likely afflicted or disarmed by other scenarios, wherefore they choose to take out their frustration on others.

“At the end of the day, I know who my inner circle is,” Bernstein expressed. “I know if I’m meeting my own expectations, then hopefully the other meaningful expectations will follow suit. The reality is women in sports broadcasting are not for everybody, and that’s okay…. More important for me is not so much the public opinion as much as the joy I get from doing what I do.”

In 1998, Bernstein joined CBS Sports where she was quickly named as a sideline reporter for live broadcasts of NFL games and the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Some of the colleagues she collaborated with for NFL games included Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Dan Dierdorf, Verne Lundquist and Dick Enberg.

Bernstein was the sideline reporter for the television broadcast on CBS and the radio broadcast on Westwood One for Super Bowl XXXVII. Additionally, she compiled and produced features for The NFL Today as its lead reporter and anchored studio coverage for CBS programming of sports updates and college basketball coverage.

“If you’re doing the sideline the right way, you’re doing as much preparation as anyone else on the team, but you are only utilizing very specific instances,” Bernstein said. “There is nothing that will ever replace the thrill of being on the sideline and having a vantage point that nobody else has except you and the photographers who are allowed on the field.”

Bernstein departed from CBS in 2006 and ultimately signed with ESPN where she began reporting on Sunday Night Baseball and ESPN College Football on ABC, allowing her to continue telling stories and providing information to enhance the broadcast. A few months into the job though, Bernstein endured a life-threatening health scare when she began to feel pain in her leg.

She recognized this leg pain, along with accompanying shortness of breath, in the midst of running to her car following coverage of the Red River Showdown between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and University of Texas at Austin Longhorns. Following a flight back to New York, she immediately went to see a chiropractor who referred her to the emergency room to be checked for blood clots. It was a directive that may have ultimately saved her life.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be in the hospital and have a doctor come in and throw the films up and say, ‘See all these black dots in your lungs? Those are blood clots. I have no idea how you’re still alive, and the only thing I can think of is that you’re in fantastic shape,’” Bernstein recalled. “That’s what saved me. The only reason I’m still alive is because health and wellness is really important to me.”

Bernstein’s official diagnosis was bilateral pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis, the result of a blood clot that was the full length of her leg, broke off, and spread into both of her lungs. She was rapidly treated with blood thinners.

According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 900,000 people annually can be affected by deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, and the first symptom experienced by 1 in 4 is sudden death. Moreover, one-third of those affected will have a recurrence within 10 years, making monitoring symptoms and receiving medical checkups pivotal.

March is deep vein thrombosis awareness month, and Bernstein has tried to utilize her platform to spread the message about the severity of this treatable, yet life-threatening disease. She urges people to take a risk assessment test while monitoring potential symptoms, and has been a spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis for many years.

“When I come across somebody who’s suffered a blood clot or when we’re in the month of March,” Bernstein said, “I always try to find a way to share that messaging with folks who are kind enough to follow on social [media].”

Aside from reporting and hosting television shows such as Outside the Lines and First Take, Bernstein contributed to programming on espnW, meant to disseminate stories and interviews with women in sports. Several broadcast networks are holding events for International Women’s Day, including an all-women broadcast and production team for the NBA on ESPN broadcast of the Dallas Mavericks’ matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans.

While working for ESPN, Bernstein executive produced and hosted a six-part interview show titled Winner’s Circle where she welcomed influential women in the world of sports to discuss their stories.

The show aligns with her new Audible podcast; however, it did not have the ability to go into profound detail because of time constraints. Nonetheless, the experience further sparked her interest in interviewing and telling these stories to viewers around the world – she was just simply waiting for the right opportunity to revitalize the effort.

Bernstein was the creator and co-host of NY Football Live, a program that aired on ESPN Radio in New York with former New York Jets linebacker Greg Buttle. She had previously had the chance to work with Michael Kay and Don La Greca on The Michael Kay Show beginning in September 2009 where she learned how to appeal to local listeners and expanded her storytelling in the audio space. It is usually difficult to create and transition to a brand new show, evinced by a dearth of callers; yet the phone lines began to light up regularly as their program became more established.

“There’s some incredible, award-winning storytelling in linear and digital,” Bernstein elucidated, “but there’s just something special about the audio space because all of your senses are completely locked on one thing: audio. There are no pictures; there are no graphics – you’re just listening. I think the ability to really have an impact on a listener is powerful when doing audio.”

Being able to effectively create a new show of her own required Bernstein learn more about management, leading her to join Campus Insiders, a new, digital college sports network owned and operated by Silver Chalice Ventures. Bernstein was initially approached to serve as a host, and she responded to the company’s initial offer with gratitude.

Knowing that she wanted to start her own production company in the future, she negotiated the role into a hybrid between hosting and serving as the company’s vice president of content and brand development. Digital media was fairly new at the time with an ambiguous outlook, but Bernstein recognized the concept as anything but transitory in nature. Adaptation is oftentimes the key to survival in a dynamic marketplace, and Bernstein has been ready and willing to explore new ideas amid other prosaic instantiations.

“When you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you’re doing it the right way, part of that is trying to stay on top of emerging trends – and in this case, technology,” Bernstein said. “When digital media was initially emerging and we were calling it ‘new media,’ I had the sense that it was not something that was just some sort of fad or trend that would fade.”

Bernstein achieved her entrepreneurial goals when she founded two companies – Velvet Hammer Media Consulting and Walk Swiftly Productions. Moving in this direction for her career aligned with the goals of continued flourishment and evolution in mind as an on-air talent and a manager. Through these endeavors, she has worked on programs both linear and digital with the XFL, College Football Playoff and ESPN.

“I have so much admiration for people who have on-air careers for 30-40 years,” Bernstein said. “I still love that aspect of it too; I love telling stories [and] I love doing interviews. The business piece of what you have the ability to do as an entrepreneur is where I really experienced the most growth. Yes, it’s hard; and yes, it requires an inordinate amount of intestinal fortitude.”

With this new podcast, which becomes available for Audible subscribers tomorrow, the company has pledged $25,000 to organizations based in Newark, N.J. working to provide opportunities for women to participate in sports. The company’s commitment to its surrounding community further underscores the mission of the podcast itself in engendering inspiration for women to play the games. A study by Ernst and Young as part of the EY Women Athletes Business Network found that 94% of C-suite women have played sports, an activity that has helped facilitate success.

“It’s storytelling with real impact, and I’m not sure that I would have ever been able to get a concept like this across the finish line if I were talent working for a network,” Bernstein articulated. “I needed to be able to take this from concept to market myself.”

In interviewing these successful women with a background in sports, Bernstein knows it is her job to listen and help create an on-air product that attracts and retains listeners. These are lessons that she learned from her time working in news and has since refined at a national scale. She continues to modify her parlance to fit the marketplace, always ensuring that she is able to elicit insightful and comprehensive answers from her guests. 

“If you’re interviewing [in] the right way, you don’t drive conversation; your guest does,” Bernstein said. “A lot of times, these interviews wound up going in different directions that I didn’t expect. That’s not only okay – it’s awesome. That’s what I hope will enable listeners to feel like they’re really glad they took the time to listen.”

As her career in sports media moves forward, Bernstein aims to receive the green light regarding some other projects she has been working on, along with thinking about authoring a book. In addition, she immensely values philanthropy and volunteer work and serves as the advisory board co-chair for Every Kid Sports. The organization provides funding for families who are unable to pay league entry fees to ensure everyone who wishes to participate and make sports a part of their lives has the chance to do so.

During the pandemic, Bernstein took a board certification course so she has the ability to lend her expertise and passion to other organizations and try to actualize change in the world. She remains ready for new challenges and instances where she can grow both personally and professionally, keeping her energized and perceptive on a regular basis.

“Daily growth and evaluation is really at the core of my being,” Bernstein expressed. “That’s not to say that there’s always room to continue growing as on-air talent…. The opportunity to start at the bottom of the learning curve and work my way up has always been so extraordinarily enticing and exciting to me.”

As more people pursue careers in sports media with a concomitant rise in the demand for compelling and engaging content, the industry remains competitive. Bernstein affirms that the sheer demand outpaces supply; however, those who try to enter the industry are sometimes precluded by those performing multiple jobs.

Ultimately, the craft comes down to timing, sustainability and networking. Those who are able to sustain a career in sports media usually take chances and adapt, and also have additional experiences that enhance their portfolio or add to their personality – including playing sports themselves.

With the array of people broadcasting their opinion en masse through a wide variety of traditional and digital platforms, it is crucial to stand out. Much like an entrepreneur, one must build their own brand and, according to Bernstein, should start doing so from the moment they determine in what industry they want to work. Employing a stellar work ethic and a willingness to go the “extra mile” helps set people apart, combining talent with hard work, humility and erudition.

“That’s the amazing thing about 2023,” Bernstein said. “You don’t need a platform; you don’t need a job. All you need to do is start creating content; start a YouTube channel [and] start networking.”

She Got Game is a 10-part Audible Originals series to be released Thursday, March 9 amid the celebration of Women’s History Month and 50th anniversary of Title IX. Bernstein will sit down with guests Laila Ali; Bianca Belair; Chelsea Clinton; Dany Garcia; Shawn Johnson; Sheila Johnson; Folake Olowofoyeku; Amy Trask; Aisha Tyler; and Julie Uhrman – interviewing them about how sports has helped them facilitate successful and enduring careers. In the process, she hopes the project serves as another avenue to compel young people to explore and leverage the advantages and lessons learned through sports for future growth.

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Ryan Clark is Ready for ‘The Pivot’ to Grow with Channing Crowder, Fred Taylor and Fanatics

“We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are.”

Derek Futterman



Ryan Clark
Courtesy: The Pivot

Answering a call from Emmy Award-winning producer Alicia Zubikowsi, Ryan Clark learned of a potential new media venture in a niche space. Zubikowski had produced the I Am Athlete podcast for nearly two years, which rapidly proliferated in size, scope and prominence. A financial dispute among the colleagues, however, led to the departures of Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor from the roster, along with Zubikowski, and they branched out on their own to actualize a new vision. After speaking with Zubikowski, Clark met with Crowder virtually and evinced compatibility that compelled him to become involved in the project.

Less than two years later, The Pivot Podcast has quickly amassed notoriety and prestige within sports media. The athlete-driven podcast contains weekly conversations with contemporaries and luminaries alike, to talk sports, music and entertainment. Clark, Crowder and Taylor possess an evident rapport and retains the audience while encouraging prospective listeners to hear the genuine endeavor.

“We felt like there was some synergy there, we thought we could do some good things and we decided to give it a try,” Clark said. “I had already been doing my own podcast that I was funding myself, editing myself and cutting promos myself just because I understood what the space was and I knew that that’s where a lot of media was going, and at the time I didn’t have a partnership or anyone kind of showing me the way, but I was like, ‘These people have already been successful.’”

Since its launch in the winter of 2022, The Pivot Podcast has amassed over 158 million views and 870,000 subscribers on YouTube alone. The show has welcomed guests across a variety of professions, some of whom have included Caleb Williams, Snoop Dogg, Gayle King and Travis Kelce. During its time in circulation, it has made an indelible impact on the landscape and recently agreed to a multi-year partnership with Fanatics.

Through the deal, The Pivot Podcast will feature Fanatics’ verticals surrounding commerce, betting, collectibles and events, and the Fanatics Sportsbook garnering the title of the “official sportsbook” of the show. Additionally, the program will be part of company events such as Fanatics Fest NYC and its annual Super Bowl party.

“Luckily for us, it’s been such a blessing,” Clark said. “Some of the stories we’ve been able to tell, the people we’ve been able to work with and have as guests on the show, and then obviously now having an opportunity to partner with Fanatics and be a part of Michael Rubin’s team and sort of head their media division, especially when you’re speaking of Alicia and what she’ll be able to do, it just makes so much sense.”

Fanatics itself had inked some deals in the sports media space over the last year, including agreements with Bleacher Report and Overtime, but they were largely under the aegis of merchandising and/or live events. The company also hired Ed Hartman as its chief strategy officer in media, trying to discover content that fits various key business sectors. For The Pivot, retaining creative control and autonomy over the content was essential and being involved in other ventures added more value to the proposition.

“To be a part of those things and bringing those things to the world, but also an opportunity to showcase the athletes and entertainers that are part of the Fanatics family – and I think that’s a different and a bigger opportunity than any podcast has ever had with any partnership, and that is why it was important for us to find the right partnership,” Clark said. “And if I’m being honest, our producer has turned down multiple deals saying that she believed that this was the one before this was ever even a thing that Michael Rubin was talking about.”

Reaching this point required hard work, consistency and confidence that The Pivot would ultimately resonate with audiences and establish a rapport in the space. Luckily for Clark, he had a viable fallback plan in that he was working at ESPN as an NFL analyst, a role he had positioned himself to attain while he was still an active player.

During his career, he had worked on 93.7 The Fan hosting a radio show from a hibachi restaurant in Pittsburgh and also appeared on local television. Clark played 13 years in the NFL as a safety and won a Super Bowl championship as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 season.

Although Clark had been told as a player that he had a chance to thrive in sports media, his formative years in the business broadened his understanding of the landscape and how to achieve success. Upon retiring from the NFL, he signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio shows and additional network programming.

Over the last several years, he has been a consistent part of NFL Live. Clark explained that the show contains underdogs who have crafted chemistry that has coalesced into an on-air product and meaningful friendships. Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes and Adam Schefter work with Clark and blend their football knowledge and expertise with entertainment.

“I could see how much work they all put into their craft, and I respected that, and then once you get that respect and you start to work together, now you get to know the people,” Clark said. “You get to know about their kids, you get to know about their home life, you get to know about what makes them tick and what makes them themselves, and then we care about each other.”

As members of the show watch NFL games every week, they remain in constant communication through a group chat. Additionally, Clark ensures that he is actively listening to what his colleagues say on the air so he can disseminate informed, substantive opinions that play a part in the overall product.

“The smartest of analysts understand what they have to be on each show based on who they’re working with,” Clark said. “I think you just also have to be versatile enough to do that. You have to know when you’re on NFL Live, that show is so heavy X and O; that show is so heavy, ‘Let’s educate – let’s talk about the things that are important in ball, even if they aren’t the most popular things.’”

Starting last season, Clark was added to Monday Night Countdown as a studio analyst as part of a revamped iteration of the program hosted by Scott Van Pelt. Joining Clark as analysts on the show were his NFL Live colleague Marcus Spears and incumbent analyst Robert Griffin III. While there were some memorable moments both in studio and on site throughout the year though, Clark felt that the show struggled to capture an essence on the air.

“I think the show is just hard because it’s sort of like rolled over the entire infrastructure and changed the people, and it happened so late that I don’t think we ever got an opportunity to find our voices on that show, and we tried to work through that throughout the season,” Clark said. “….I think last year was a learning experience where if I’m being really honest, we did bad TV sometimes, which was new for me because I felt like I haven’t done bad TV in a very long time, and it was embarrassing for me because I put so much time into it.”

Former Philadelphia Eagles center and Super Bowl champion Jason Kelce is joining the show and was formally introduced this week. During a charity golf outing this offseason, Clark had a chance to meet Kelce and learn more about him as a person while also answering questions about ESPN and the sports media business.

“I told him to be himself because being himself is what got him here,” Clark said. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, so he has so much knowledge, experience and wisdom that people will crave, and he can give it to them uniquely with his personality, with his honesty [and] with the openness and vulnerability about who he is. Other than that, he’s going to have to learn.”

Akin to Clark hosting The Pivot and working at ESPN, Kelce hosts the New Heights podcast with his brother, and will now be joining Monday Night Countdown on ESPN. Clark anticipates that Kelce will be a huge addition, referring to him as the “hottest free agent ever,” and hopes to grant him longform chances to express himself on the air. Being on the show for a second season, however, nearly was not a reality for Clark amid an expiring contract at ESPN.

“I was gone,” Clark said. “I wasn’t considering – I was done. Normally they extend your contract until it gets done most times. I was out – my contract had ended.”

Clark took part in discussions with other people in the business, some of which included having his own show and organizations starting networks around him. Throughout the process, he was cognizant about the relationships and memories he had built at ESPN and was appreciative for various personalities speaking up for him, including Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith. In the end, Clark signed a multi-year extension with the network that implemented a raise and additional responsibility while also continuing his other projects.

“Obviously my family is the NFL Live crew,” Clark said. “Scott Van Pelt and I probably share one of the most memorable nights in television when Damar Hamlin went down. And so those relationships were things that I didn’t want to leave unless there was a good enough reason to leave, and I don’t think that’s just money.”

Clark started hosting Inside the NFL last season on The CW, a storied sports franchise that presents highlights, analysis and interviews every week during the NFL season. After spending approximately four decades on HBO and subsequent years on Showtime and Paramount+, the program moved to broadcast television for the first time. Clark conceptualizes his role as a point guard who is able to score when necessary and successfully facilitate his colleagues Jay Cutler, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Long and The Pivot co-host Channing Crowder.

“I think that was the hardest adjustment with Inside the NFL initially was like, ‘Okay, how do I set these guys up for success while still doing something I’m really good at, which is analyzing football?,’” Clark said, “and it’s taken some time to really sort of find a space for it, but I think I did find that on Inside the NFL.”

In working on The Pivot, Clark built relationships organically through conversations surrounding strategy, content creation and lifestyle. One episode in particular that stands out to him is when the show interviewed former NBA forward Michael Beasley where he opened up about his mental health struggles and hardships he has endured throughout his life. Furthermore, he talked about struggling to find the right people and explained that everyone stole from him except his kids. Clark, Crowder and Taylor sympathized with Beasley and offered him assistance, underscoring the unscripted, genuine nature of the show.

“Everybody wants The Rock to be able to come on their show and talk about his battles with depression, but we also want Kevin Hart to be able to come on the show and invite him to nudist camp too,” Clark said. “We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s distinctive in effort or goal; I think it’s been distinctive in execution, which, in the end, is what we deliver to people.”

Through the new partnership with Fanatics, Clark looks forward to continuing to take part in candid conversations and storytelling on The Pivot while continuing to thrive in his work with ESPN and The CW. As someone who attained a successful NFL career after signing as an undrafted free agent, he maintains a mentality built on an indefatigable work ethic and resolute dedication towards his professional endeavors. Once the show signed the partnership with Fanatics, it had an opportunity to interview Tom Brady, who discussed topics including his experience being the subject of a Netflix roast and the lessons he learned playing in the NFL.

“Not everybody understands Tom Brady, right?,” Clark said. “Who knows that story? Who has ever lived that, ‘I’m the greatest to ever do something’? But everybody has understood what it’s like to struggle; what it’s like to doubt yourself, right? And so we bring them that story, and in bringing them that story, we talk about the things that Fanatics is doing and the ways that they are now moving in the sports world.”

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Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo Making the Most of His Resurgence with the Help of ESPN

Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time.

John Molori



Screengrab of First Take on ESPN with Chris Russo
Screengrab from ESPN/First Take

The true essence of Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, Version 2024 can be found in the open to the May 15 edition of First Take on ESPN.

In the aftermath of the Knicks defeating the Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, superstar showstopper Stephen A. Smith opened the program with an emotionally joyous soliloquy lauding his favorite New York basketball team. Smith was jubilant, ebullient, and thrilled.

The segment ended with Smith walking over to panelists Russo and Kendrick Perkins and hugging them in glee. After the show’s open, the Knick rapture continued, that is, until “Mad Dog” was let out of the kennel.

Russo brought things back down to earth, predicting that Indiana would win Game 6 of the series. He then went through a mental historical timeline of the Knicks choking in playoff games at home. This level of historic context is largely lost on modern sports fans, many of whom believe that nothing existed before LeBron James or Tom Brady.

Russo’s beautiful dose of reality ticked off the jovial Smith but set the discourse on a more levelheaded road. Russo is a talking history book, and let’s face it, not everybody likes history class. The difference, however, is that Christopher Russo lived this history, and indeed, made history himself. A 2022 National Radio Hall of Fame inductee, he has uniquely entertained sports fans for more than four decades, becoming one of the most memorable and imitated personalities ever.

He created Mad Dog Sports Radio on SiriusXM in 2008 and headlines the channel with his popular Mad Dog Unleashed show. In addition, he hosts the daily High Heat program on MLB Network. Still, it is one of Russo’s earliest and most recent gigs that set him apart.

Beginning in 1989 and for the next 19 years, Russo and Mike Francesa hosted the landmark Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon driveshow on WFAN radio in New York. It was a ratings mammoth and ensconced Russo as a stone-cold sports media legend.

I am going to make the case that Russo’s latest incarnation as a First Take Wednesday regular is just as significant. It has exposed a whole new audience to the Russo experience. On a more basic level, it is just really special to see a classic radio guy like Russo welcomed into the most progressive and popular sports talk show on the air right now.

Kudos to Stephen A. Smith for making Russo a regular on his program. You can tell that Smith, author of an historically significant media career himself, truly respects those who came before him and blazed the trail. In fact, to a certain extent, Smith is a media offspring of Russo. They both possess riveting personalities, unquestioned bravery, and on-air dominance. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, these are two men who must be listened to and respected.

With Max Kellerman’s 2021 exit from First Take, I was doubtful as to what would happen to the program. My worst thought was that Smith would bring in a bevy of co-hosts who would bow to his greatness – like Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ coaching hires since Jimmy Johnson. Thankfully, Smith went in the other direction. Russo has the same cache as Smith, so there is no hero worship. He says what he feels and talks straight – real talk in a colorful and exciting manner.

As the Knicks discussion continued, Smith wanted to tap into Russo’s New York sports sensibilities and emotion asking Russo if he felt Madison Square Garden shaking during the Knicks’ Game 5 win. It didn’t work. Russo responded that at 65 years-old, he has been in the Garden for many big games and then cautioned Smith to take it easy with the Knicks.

He again harkened back to New York’s less than sparkling history in big games and menacingly joked that it is his job to “spoil Stephen A’s fun.” Russo then spectacularly took the air out of the building with an ominous What If asking what the Knicks would do if it came down to a Game 7 and the game was tied with the clock winding down.

Russo is also self-deprecating. When host Molly Qerim asked him for a prediction on the Nuggets-Timberwolves series, Russo said that he predicted that the Bills would blow out the Giants in Super Bowl XXV – the famed Scott Norwood missed field goal game. Qerim, who does an excellent job in controlling Hurricane Christopher, acknowledged the obscure reference.

While Russo has a database of past stats and stars, he is not lost in history. In fact, on this edition of First Take, he made a bold statement that the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić has the greatest offensive skill set of any center in the history of the NBA. These are not the words of a stodgy curmudgeon whose mind cannot be changed.

Russo is an astute observer of our games. He sees greatness and gives that greatness credit. Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time. His opinions are not to be chided. They are to be listened to and appreciated.

During First Take’s Quick Takes segment, Russo ably put his encyclopedic knowledge to use. The question posed was whether the Celtics or Lakers are the greatest franchise in NBA history. Russo’s analysis was spot on and long overdue. First, he discounted the Minneapolis Lakers’ five titles as part of the pro-Lakers argument. He also cited the Celtics’ overall dominance when the two franchises have met in the NBA Finals over the decades.

Lastly, he remarked that the Celtics have had four eras of greatness: Russell in the 1960s, Havlicek-Cowens in the 1970s, Bird in the 1980s, and Pierce-Garnett in the late 2000s, while the Lakers have only two: Magic-Abdul-Jabbar in the ‘80s and Shaq-Kobe in the 2000s. It was the best analysis of a longtime debate.

In a debate about Bronny James and his NBA hopes, Russo again was the voice of reason giving a very realistic analysis of why he is not a top pro prospect. It is clear that Russo has nothing to prove, nobody to impress, and no apple to polish. He made his bones years ago, and his takes are refreshing and objective.

The cherry on top of Russo’s First Take sundae was his What Are You Mad About? segment. Viewers tuning into this part of the program are no doubt wondering who the hell, and at times, what the hell they are watching. Russo pushes the limits of his angst, heart rate, blood pressure, and decibel level picking apart several news items from the week in sports. At times, he closes his blurbs screaming to the heavens, “May God strike me down!”

In this particular segment, he went off on late NBA playoff start times, the intrigue surrounding the 2024 NFL schedule release, and his distaste towards the vulgar humor in the Tom Brady roast. Russo gets up close to the camera and goes off in a boisterous way. It is simultaneously fantastic and frightening.

In his last piece on the roast, Russo looked into the camera and yelled to Brady, “How stupid can you be!” This is the same question I will pose to anyone who dismisses Russo as an out of touch old guy. This cat is no curmudgeon. He is a killer. Elderly? No, epic. Bygone? How about straight up bad ass. That is Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Version 2024.

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How to Renegotiate Your Annual Sports Radio Advertising Contract

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach.

Jeff Caves



Graphic that shows two people negotiating
Graphic Courtesy:

If you are a small to medium-sized business, there is no doubt you are facing rising costs, and making ends meet is a top priority. Sometimes, that means cutting expenses on things you have committed to via contract, like a 2024 annual radio advertising agreement with level monthly payments. You are on the air each month and appreciate the value of advertising consistently. You understand the necessity to maintain a market presence within the budget you laid out last year. You negotiated a win-win contract and are happy with it. However, with your costs spiraling to deliver your services, cost-cutting measures have become critical for financial viability in the long term and better cash flow in the short term. You are now tasked with the need to reduce expenses wherever you can, and your sports radio advertising is next on the list. The station doesn’t want to lessen your committed budget. It’s time for strategic negotiation and decision-making. Here are some effective strategies to accomplish this objective while keeping your annual budget intact:

Pricing and Rates

Initiate negotiations on pricing and rates for ad spots with the radio station. They know where they have more demand than supply and could even make more money by freeing up some of your commercials to be sold to other clients, sometimes at higher rates. This is typically during the weekday drive time periods; you probably got an annual rate for your commitment. If the station is willing, you could move into off-peak nighttime buys or weekends. Off-peak hours typically come at a lower cost and can still reach a substantial audience, enabling you to stretch your budget further. Give the station 30 days to see if they can accomplish this, and if not, go to plan ‘B.’

Longer Commitments

Consider committing to a longer-term contract, like a multi-year agreement, to potentially lower your monthly cash commitment. Maybe you could move off $2,000 per month from July to December and move it to the first six months of 2025. Emphasize your dedication to maintaining a consistent advertising presence over time, which can incentivize the radio station to continue the partnership.

Frequency and Unit Length

If the station allows you to reduce the monthly budget, focus on maximizing frequency by strategically choosing the length of ad units. Instead of running only thirty and sixty-second ads, opt for :15 slots to increase frequency without exceeding your budget. Shorter units are more cost-effective per spot and can deliver well-known messages repeatedly.

Budget Reallocation and Trade

Explore avenues for reallocating funds within your annual budget to optimize expenses. For instance, negotiate a reduction in the monthly budget and allocate the saved funds to months where your cash flow is strongest. Having a payment schedule that matches your cash flow will give you the best chance to meet expenses. Furthermore, explore opportunities for service or trade to offset your monthly bill, leveraging resources you have already paid for that may match up well with what the station needs.

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach. Concentrating on pricing, rates, contract length, frequency, and budget reallocation can keep your station relationship intact, honor your contract, and increase cash flow.

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