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Mike Monaco Remains Grounded While His Star Rises

“There’s no substitute for the hard work component…Just bring a thirst and a great unparalleled work ethic to it.”

Derek Futterman



Mike Monaco

Baseball in the calendar year 2023 looks and feels drastically different with history being made in ways never before perceived as possible. The pitch clock has had a dual effect in that it has correlated to a shorter average game duration of two hours and 38 minutes – down from last year’s figure of three hours and eight minutes), but has also caused batters to accumulate balls or strikes through a timer violation of some kind. As a play-by-play announcer, Mike Monaco precipitously felt the effect of the rule changes when calling a Boston Red Sox spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. The score was tied at 6, and the Braves had the bases loaded with a chance to win the game.

On a 3-2 count with two outs in the ninth inning, Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski prepared to deliver a potential game-altering pitch; however, the umpire quickly gestured to stop play and mark a seminal moment in baseball history. Atlanta Braves shortstop Cal Conley was called out without a pitch being thrown since he was not set in the batter’s box with at least eight seconds to go.

The crowd at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, had just witnessed something new: the first professional baseball game to end on a pitch clock violation, and in a tie nonetheless. “America’s Pastime” has officially been altered, and now there is no turning back.

“I said to Lou Merloni – who had just finished calling his first Red Sox TV game because his experience in the past had been on radio for Red Sox broadcasts – I said, ‘Did you think you’d go viral in your first game in the booth?,’” Monaco recalls. “It was a crazy ending, and at that point, we were still sifting through the mechanics of the call.”

Just as the new rule alters pitchers in terms of their usual sequence, it has changed the way hitters approach a plate appearance. Because they are only allowed to call for a timeout once per at bat, along with the fact that they need to be ready at the plate by the point in the countdown where at least eight seconds are remaining, batters must remain focused and locked in at all times.

Moreover, the institution of the pitch clock has, in essence, altered the sound of a game broadcast and forced commentators to render their points more compendious and succinct in nature.

“It’s made me rethink about how I set up stories and how quickly I try to get into something,” Monaco expressed. “In the past, you might be able to meander into something and then kind of get your story started and your point across in a more ‘folksy’ way that we always think of with baseball broadcasting. It’s definitely changed how I view it from a broadcast perspective.”

In listening back to the call, Monaco’s reaction is obviously one of shock and mesmerization, and it can be discerned that most viewers felt the same way. As a broadcaster, he portrayed the feelings of the audience at that moment, demonstrating his adept versatility and instincts.

Make no mistake about it – Monaco is familiar with the history of the Boston Red Sox. He has been watching the team both at Fenway Park and at home since he was young, and he considers their play to have been a vehicle that fueled his love of sports. Reflecting on his time as a young Boston sports fan, he realizes that he was spoiled with success, highlighted by the Red Sox breaking the infamous, 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” when the team won the 2004 World Series.

Since the turn of the century, the New England Patriots, led by head coach Bill Belicheck and quarterback Tom Brady, formed a dynasty and won six Super Bowl championships. The Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins have had formidable chances to win multiple titles over the last 20 years as well, with the teams securing glory in 2008 and 2011, respectively.

Aside from being an avid fan of the teams, Monaco was an athlete himself, yet inherently aware that he had no chance of completing the path to competing professionally. As a student at Cohasset High School, Monaco played baseball and basketball and, in his senior year, was named captain of the soccer team. When it was time to think about applying to college, Monaco decided to try and study to become a general manager of a Major League Baseball team, an occupation with only, at most, 30 potential job openings.

During his formative years as an undergraduate student attending the University of Notre Dame, Monaco remained focused on his classwork but joined various campus organizations including the school’s newspaper and radio station.

Through opportunities to write and broadcast on these platforms, he recognized that he wanted to pursue a career in sports media, leading him to major in journalism and learn the trade. From Notre Dame softball games, fencing events and even football contests between different dorms, Monaco covered all different types of sports at a high level, and also worked to develop hosting skills in the campus radio studios.

Additionally, he was promoted to sports editor of the school newspaper and had the ability to cover events and write a variety of stories disseminated to the local community. The athletic department’s decision to begin streaming games engendered additional chances for him to take the microphone, providing him with a litany of repetitions and the credentials needed to land an internship.

“For two years in college in the summers, I interned in the Cape Cod Baseball League calling baseball games,” Monaco said. “It was 44 games in a little less than two months, so basically a game every day. I knew that I loved it; I loved hanging out at the batting cages during batting practice in the afternoons and talking to players and coaches, and it’s really cool how many guys I know from there.”

The Wareham Gatemen, the team for whom he called these games, exposed him to the quotidian nature of the sport and how to prepare and execute broadcasts. Before that though in the summer after his freshman year, Monaco had interned with New England Sports Network (NESN), specifically on its Boston Red Sox broadcasts.

For select games, his role was to sit in an edit bay throughout the duration of the Red Sox game and help produce a 30-second commercial for the next contest. By being present, he discerned the conversations happening in the broadcast truck between producers, directors, broadcasters, and other personnel. It allowed him to develop a cognizance of industry jargon, invaluable to cultivating a fastidious approach in his preparation that continues to pay dividends today.

“There’s no shortcut for it,” Monaco said of preparation, “and it’s the baseline expectation of a fanbase tuning into your game, whether that’s a national broadcast or a local broadcast. They are watching because they care so much about the team – or maybe about a family member or a friend on the team – or just fandom. You can’t cheat that, and you can’t shortcut it.”

By the time he was a senior at the university, Monaco became a media assistant with the South Bend Cubs in its first year as a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. The roster featured future major league players to go with an environment where development was at the top of mind.

By that fall, he was off to Western Michigan University, not to attain another degree, but to broadcast its basketball games, marking his first job out of college with some pressure to prove the people that took a chance on him sagacious in doing so. The games were televised on ESPN3, granting the production team the capability to establish its own identity and make the broadcasts unique and compelling to watch.

“It gave me a chance on air to try different things and to make mistakes and to learn,” Monaco said. “….Through the basketball season, [I found] ways to tell stories about the same team and [not only covered] them each time I had their game, but [tried] to bring something new to it. It was an amazing experience.”

The next spring, Monaco resumed his baseball duties – this time with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres. In broadcasting a sport with an average of less than 20 minutes of action, a fundamental aspect of the job is in attracting and maintaining an audience, something that is often done by being invested in the game while having synergy with on-air partners.

“To really be a good partner and a good teammate, even with the production crew as well, and to accentuate the other people that are a part of the broadcast and to bring out their strengths and be a good point guard so to speak,” Monaco described as part of his role. “That’s a lot of what I think being a play-by-play [announcer] is – to have that role and to hopefully put others in a position to be successful and make them feel comfortable and bring out their best characteristics.”

Over the time Monaco assimilated into working professionally in sports media, he sought out and received advice from many prominent broadcasters in the field, such as Sean McDonough, Adam Amin, and Len Kasper. As time has gone on, he has established relationships with Brian Anderson and Jason Benetti, receiving insight and expertise into what it takes to succeed in the industry and how to best position himself moving forward. One method anyone pursuing a career in most professions could take is by aligning oneself with a proven commodity, something that has been refined and established with the proper ethos.

By joining the Pawtucket Red Sox as an intern in broadcast and media relations in the spring of 2017, Monaco was doing just that. The organization has a long list of alumni who have made the transition from the minors to the majors over the years, including Cincinnati Bengals radio play-by-play voice Dan Hoard; San Francisco Giants broadcaster Dave Flemming; and New York Mets television play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen. Yet when he joined the organization, regularly going on air was no guarantee, and the situation became more unpredictable when the team landed a local television deal.

In the end, Monaco was assigned to broadcast Saturday home games in the first season and performed other tasks under Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, both of whom now broadcast Major League Baseball games on the radio. When Flemming received a chance to broadcast Boston Red Sox games, Monaco was paired in the booth with Maurer, forming a duo that called games throughout the course of the 2019 season.

“You’re right in the Boston market basically, and there’s coverage from Red Sox media of the PawSox, [so] that was a great learning experience too [in] being a step closer to the major leagues and seeing how things operate. It was three amazing years there, and I’m still really close with all those people and wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

In the midst of his final season with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien was unable to broadcast two late-season home games against the Baltimore Orioles. As a result, Monaco was paired with Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersely, officially receiving his call to the show and a new vantage point from which to watch the game at historic Fenway Park.

“Two of the biggest days of my career to that point and two days that I still hold really closely to my heart,” Monaco said of the occurrence. “I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t believe [it] when they called me to tell me that they were going to have me fill in for Dave. It was an honor then to fill in, and it’s an honor any time I fill in now.”

Broadcasting his childhood team alongside Remy and Eckersley was somewhat intimidating for Monaco, but an opportunity he knew he would never pass up. Feeling excitement, nerves and disbelief as he entered the NESN broadcast booth, he remembers both color commentators making him feel comfortable and affirming the value his intellect and impressions garnered. They offered to adjust to him and try to make the broadcast as enjoyable as possible, helping make that stretch even more memorable.

“I’ll never forget [that], and I hope to pass that on to any new partner that I work with at whatever level down the road,” Monaco expressed. “They really did go out of their way to make me feel like I was supposed to be there and that my opinions, thoughts and words were as valuable as theirs. Certainly, the experience factor says otherwise.”

Since that time, Monaco has had several chances to broadcast Red Sox games on NESN, requiring somewhat of an adjustment from his days in the minor leagues. Additionally, he has been given the chance to fill in for Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox games in parts of the last few years.

For starters, Major League Baseball teams, especially in large markets, receive what may seem like an interminable amount of press. As a result, there is an unimpeded circulation of news, analysis, statistics and other information that factors into the broadcast. Furthermore, a large proportion of fans are recurring viewers of content related to their favorite teams, indicating that they comprehensively and instantaneously know the ins and outs of what is happening.

“There’s just a baseline understanding between announcers and [the] audience of who guys are that I [do not] necessarily need to rehash a player’s backstory when I’m doing a game on NESN,” Monaco said, “whereas there’s maybe a little bit more introduction of who someone is in the minor leagues to a listener in a town where the fanbase isn’t as big.”

Around the time when he began working with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Monaco signed a deal to broadcast games for FOX Sports and the Big Ten Network including football, soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse. Calling myriad sports with varying rules and rosters without a fixed, recurring role took an adjustment period, but fostered an even greater sense of versatility and value in his craft.

“There have been times in the fall or even in the spring where I might have five games in five days and they might be three different sports,” Monaco said. “Trying to keep everything straight is a challenge, but it’s also the joy in this and it’s why you get into it in the first place. It doesn’t feel like work.”

Although he continues to keep in touch with lead NHL on ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, Monaco says that their relationship had no direct influence on his joining the network in 2019. It took considerable effort for Monaco to learn the game well enough to be considered for professional broadcasting roles, and surely his time calling college hockey at Notre Dame gave him somewhat of a background in the nuances of a sport predicated on dynamic action.

Last March, he made his debut and today calls a variety of national contests throughout the course of the regular season; in fact, he estimates that, at this point, he has worked with nearly every one of the property’s analysts.

“I’ve learned a ton just from sitting next to them at a morning skate [and] over the course of a two-and-a-half hour broadcast as well,” Monaco said. “It’s an incredibly challenging sport to call, but it’s incredibly rewarding.”

The skill and abilities of the athletes to play with finesse and physicality on the ice make the sport somewhat of an outlier in that no matter the situation, fans are always at the edge of their seats. In an era with interminable amounts of distraction and other activities to engross oneself in, hockey shines through and holds its broadcasters to a high standard to keep up and cohesively describe the game.

“It’s the fastest sport there is,” Monaco said. “That’s a reason why I think from a sheer fan entertainment perspective, I think it’s the most enjoyable sport. If you plop down at a sporting event, it’s the most enjoyable sport to watch in person because of how fast it moves paired with the incredible skill in the game.”

No matter the broadcast, commentators have set a standard since the advent of sports media in acting as acquiring information and delivering it on the broadcast, instantiated in an objective manner. Although there is opinion imbued in sports broadcasting, stellar broadcasts utilize it to contribute to the game story rather than attack individuals personally. In having a platform with the capability of reaching a large number of people, Monaco and his broadcast team, whether it is on NESN, ESPN, or the ACC Network for college football, has a responsibility to precisely depict the game and, if the situation calls for it, accompany it with mirthful moments.

“If someone has a career game, that might be the biggest moment of their life at that point,” Monaco said. “I feel a duty to be prepared to hopefully tell that story accurately for how that person got to this point and what this moment means for them.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the time thereafter, a question about sending broadcasters to road games has been posed throughout the industry – and it made gathering stories to tell considerably more difficult. Those opposing broadcasts on the road usually cite how it hurts teams financially and that a comparable product can be generated from a remote site, while those in favor talk about the importance of being able to discern the whole game and gain intangibles through their observations.

In Major League Baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels are the only franchises that do not send their English radio announcers on the road for games – and they have received a fair amount of backlash for their decisions.

Monaco is of the belief that broadcasts sound better when announcers travel with the team and call the games in person, but also understands the other side of the quandary. There were occasions when he flew back home to Chicago just to call a game remotely, and he still continues to do so in special circumstances. He knows the stretch of time doing it regularly was a challenge for him and adjusted his means of preparation. The relationships with those around the industry made the time easier in keeping an open line of communication and remaining in the subconscious of decision-makers.

“I think in any industry that’s probably the name of the game,” Monaco said of relationship building. “In any walk of life, it’s great. What you’ve done and what you’re capable of, but also who you know is really important.”

While he tries to resist thinking about future goals and instead remain grounded in everything he is presently doing, Monaco knows he wants to continue broadcasting meaningful games and telling stories to an audience. There are many people with this same desire, making sports media a particularly competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry in which to work wherefore establishing a work ethic is of the utmost importance. In addition, astutely watching other broadcasters and reaching out to get feedback demonstrates humility and a yearning to enhance one’s skills and adapt.

Quite simply, staying ahead of the curve is crucial in staying in the industry, and while there is a certain allure to tradition, the industry continues to look forward and find new ways to implement its talent and showcase the best the games have to offer.

“There’s no substitute for the hard work component,” Monaco said. “….Just bring a thirst and a great unparalleled work ethic to it.”

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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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