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Draft Night Puts NFL Team Broadcasters On The Clock Too

“GMs, scouts, and coaches are certainly busy in the time leading up to the draft and of course on draft day. The same type of schedule holds true for the broadcasters.”

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“With the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select…”

Commissioner Roger Goodell will reveal the selection Thursday night on several television networks. The NFL and its partners, NFL Network, ABC and ESPN will provide coverage of this year’s draft from Kansas City. The production and spectacle have come a long way since it was first televised by ESPN in 1980. 

The start-up network made a request to then commissioner Pete Rozelle. He then took ESPN’s request to the 28 NFL owners and they overwhelmingly rejected it. Rozelle didn’t care that the owners had just told him no. The innovator behind ‘Monday Night Football’, NFL Films had a work around to get this thing done. 

“Pete walked out of that room and turned to me and said, ‘Call Chet Simmons (at ESPN) and tell him that he’s gonna do the draft as a news event. And we can’t stop him from covering it.” Jim Steeg, the NFL’s VP of special events at the time, told Sports Illustrated.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  From its humble beginnings 43 years ago, the NFL Draft telecast has become a spectacle of sorts. It’s a big industry. 

The draft is also huge when it comes to radio. Fans want to hear the local perspective to balance out what they may be seeing and hearing on the national scene. It’s so important, for teams to get that information out there. 

Local teams will be using their hometown broadcasters. These folks are the trusted connection between the franchise and its fan base. They follow their teams closely and are extremely credible when it comes to information. They will undoubtedly be appearing on their respective flagship stations during the weekend.  So, even though there are no games to call right now, these announcers and analysts alike will still be preparing and getting ready to speak intelligently about who is drafted. 

Jeff Joniak is the voice of the Chicago Bears. He’ll be starting his 23rd season behind the mic for the team. Joniak is always prepared. Always. I’ve worked with Jeff before and he gave me my start, doing sports in Chicago in 1995.

“Andy, you have known me for a long, long time!  You know I am digging in deep to the draft,” he told me. “I feel it is a great opportunity to find out as much as I can about as many players as I can and that information adds to my data base of in-season notes. I definitely overdo it, but I can always use the knowledge. Love reading about how these players put themselves into position to fulfill lifelong dreams and get to the NFL.”

Wes Durham will start his 20th season of calling Atlanta Falcons football. His prep work for the draft is a little different for a couple of reasons. One, he’s only hosting a show for Round 1 and not all weekend. Still, there is prep involved.

“I think the deep dive for Jeff (Joniak), who’s doing it all weekend long, or for me, who’s doing just the bulk of my work Thursday night, I think you have to be (prepared) in some respect,” said Durham. “It’s the time where play-by-play guys also shift-play analysts a little bit. Jeff’s got Tom Thayer and I’ve got Dave Archer and both guys are prepared. In Arch’s case, he digs in on this. He has a notebook Thursday night. He’s got a notebook on just about every player.”

Durham has one other advantage over a lot of the NFL play-by-play announcers. He’s been calling college football since the late 1990’s. 

“I guess I get the benefit, because I work college football, so I have at least some working knowledge of just about everything in the first round,” Durham told me. “It’s really when you get into the weeds that you know, it’s the challenge, right? I mean, it’s the kind of a guy who either falls or who you take in the fifth, like last year, we took Tyler Allgeier out of BYU in the fifth. You know, most people in Atlanta obviously don’t follow BYU, right? I’d watched enough BYU to know about him.”

Joniak, who will be on the air or in front of the fans all weekend long, is definitely paying attention to the chatter in the league. 

“I will be monitoring every vibration of the draft, to see who goes where after I have studied so many of these prospects,” he said.  “Certainly, I will be paying close attention to what the rest of the NFC North is doing as well. Now that Aaron Rodgers is a New York Jet, what the Packers do next is also intriguing.”

But then there’s his team, the Bears, who have already made a trade out of the number one spot. Now they will be on the clock at number nine. So, there’s a lot of local flavors for Joniak to be looking out for. 

“Well, certainly what the Bears are going to do with the 9th overall pick in the first round. Will they take an offensive tackle? Will they go defensive line? Cornerback? Will they deal down and collect more draft assets?  I assume everything is on the table. It is fun right now for Bears fans.  This week signals another stair step in the rebuilding/reloading process that started a year ago under General Manager Ryan Poles and Head Coach Matt Eberflus.” 

GMs, scouts, and coaches are certainly busy in the time leading up to the draft and of course on draft day. The same type of schedule holds true for the broadcasters. Teams and the radio flagships will use them early and often. 

“Yeah, we’re on the flagship radio station (92.9 The Game) right as the draft starts until the end of the first round, potentially or 11pm, whichever kind of comes first,” Durham says. “We used to be at the stadium, but this year because of three nights of Taylor Swift, we are going to be at a Falcons fan draft party at Atlantic Station.” 

Durham and his crew will have to “Shake It Off” and put on a great show for the fans.  

The Atlanta Falcons website, will also feature Durham just before the draft starts. 

“Dave Archer and I are involved in a one-hour digital show that airs at seven o’clock on AtlantaFalcons.com,” Durham said recalling his schedule. “We’re gonna do that with Derek Rackley, who does some Westwood stuff, who played in the league, played in Atlanta for a long time. It’s kind of a draft preview.”

The schedule is sort of the same for Joniak, minus the Taylor Swift issue. 

“ESPN 1000 is the new radio rights holder for the Bears, and now that I am working with the great team at Good Karma Brands, they have Tom Thayer and myself sharing the airwaves from 2p-6p Thursday on the Waddle & Silvy show live from Soldier Field,” he said. “The Bears have Tom and I hosting the team draft party from 6p-10p live at Soldier Field after our radio commitment. We will get a live interview with the first-round pick. The event is sold out, so it should be an outstanding, revved up environment.”

Joniak will be busy all weekend long. 

“For days 2 and 3 of the draft, I will be stationed at the Bears headquarters at Halas Hall in suburban Chicago. I will have a variety of duties on their platforms, and getting ready for post-draft interviews for our Bears Draft review that airs live on Sunday night on Bears TV partner Fox-32 Chicago with Lou Canellis and (Tom) Thayer. It’s a great week, and plenty of football to discuss.”

It all gets going Thursday for the announcers and many others at radio stations across the country. The NFL seemingly has no offseason anymore. Covering the league has become a year-round job for those involved. That includes the broadcasters, as you can tell. It’s why Joniak and Durham are so respected in the industry and so admired by their team’s fan bases. 

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Nobody Looks Good in 670 The Score vs John Schriffen Feud

Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

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A photo of the 670 The Score and John Schriffen

John Schriffen had the unenviable task of replacing Jason Bennetti as the TV voice of the Chicago White Sox. And the reaction from 670 The Score hosts — namely Danny Parkins, Matt Spiegel, and their producer Shane Riordan — hasn’t helped matters.

To call Schriffen’s first six or seven weeks on the job a rough stretch would be an understatement. Not a baseball play-by-play savant, Schriffen has struggled to get into the groove of working an everyday broadcast and has made mistakes that aren’t unexpected.

However, the 670 The Score afternoon show of Parkins & Spiegel was quick to jump on Schriffen’s miscues. In some instances, the criticism was warranted. For instance, Schriffen called former White Sox owner Bill Veeck (pronounced VECK), Bill “Veek.” In a rather innocuous comment, Schriffen showcased his inexperience and lack of knowledge.

But the reaction from 670 The Score hosts quickly went from “criticism” to being borderline ridiculous. They continually ridiculed the relatively green but promising play-by-player, taking any chance they could to take potshots.

While I’m certain the hosts and producer found the quips amusing, they quickly became meanspirited. This is surprising, because Matt Spiegel is a baseball play-by-play voice in his own right, filling in at times on Chicago Cubs broadcasts. There’s an almost unspoken agreement between play-by-play broadcasters that you really don’t critique someone else’s broadcast without that person asking for your input. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own style, but what 670 The Score did went past criticism and turned into questioning the resume and reasoning for why Schriffen was hired in the first place.

Which isn’t their place. I imagine if I were to question why Parkins, Spiegel, or Riordan were hired for the roles they currently hold, they’d have a conniption. And rightfully so, because who the hell am I to say who does and doesn’t deserve this job or that job. But that’s the point.

John Schriffen, however, isn’t innocent in this ordeal. After analyst Gordon Beckham flubbed an ad read during a broadcast last week, instead of just letting sleeping dogs lie, he commented “If any of those radio losers clip it and try to make fun of you, nobody cares about them anyway.”

Before that moment, Schriffen had the upper hand in the feud, because at that point it wasn’t a feud. It was a one-sided, often times mean-spirited approach from 670 The Score. But he needlessly added fuel to the fire.

When somebody wants to pick a fight — and make no bones about it, a fight only benefitted Parkins, Spiegel, and Riordan — you have to avoid the fight, hold in your anger, and walk away/ignore it. And ignoring criticism, even when high-profile people are questioning your credentials, is just something that has to come with being the TV play-by-play voice of a Major League franchise.

Schriffen, no matter how difficult it is, has to take the high road when it comes to media criticism. Nothing, absolutely nothing, good comes from engaging. And frankly, those tearing him down were hoping to do just that, bring them down to their level, where they’d beat him with experience. Part of being a great sports radio host — and despite criticizing them in this story, I think Parkins & Spiegel is the best local show in America — is defending your opinions, and coming out on top no matter what. It’s an avenue Schriffen was never going to win.

I’ve been hesitant to use the word “bully” or “bullying” in this case because I think the word is thrown out all too often in 2024. It’s as if there is no middle ground between “everybody love everybody” and “bullying.” But, after Schriffen’s comments, Shane Riordan went into textbook bully mode. His “If you mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns” response, couldn’t be more bully-esque. Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

Riordan was suspended in 2023 after claiming he’d “bone” the mom of a conservative Chicago talk radio host after speaking poorly of the Windy City. Instead of being somewhat remorseful over the situation, Riordan wore it like a badge of honor in a tweetstorm after Schriffen’s comments, claiming that his response to the White Sox TV voice would lead to another suspension. He later said Schriffen “just opened the f—ing floodgates” and had “no f—ing clue what he has done” by criticizing the station and the afternoon show.

After weeks of criticism, going as far as to say Schriffen “didn’t know baseball”, he called the folks making fun of him “losers”, and that’s the response? After making attacks that could absolutely be viewed as personal, to take being called a “loser” by someone you’ve denigrated for weeks so personally is bizarre. The idea that you’d even care about someone you’ve already un-invited from the cool kids club is truly asinine. Again, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

I’m sure they would deny this, claiming a role as an “equal opportunity offender”, but I can’t help but think that if 670 The Score was the radio flagship of the White Sox, or if Schriffen was the Cubs TV voice, this would have never happened. Boog Sciambi is often lambasted by Cubs fans for his work (and I’ll never understand why), but I can’t remember a time when a Score host took time to criticize his performance.

For what it’s worth, Parkins & Spiegel aren’t the only Chicago media members talking about Schriffen. Jonathan Hood, morning co-host at ESPN 1000 (the flagship of the White Sox) said he didn’t “understand the chip on the shoulder” of Schriffen, adding that “no one is out to get” the new White Sox TV voice. I think it’s pretty clear, however, to see why Schriffen would feel differently.

Nobody wins here. Everyone looks like a loser. Each side is at fault. And instead of being able to take the high road, both sides look like petulant children. It’s a pissing match that no one can win, and no one included in the beef has taken the slightest moment to be introspective, nor retrospective, and think “Maybe I should just be an adult — and a professional — and grow up.”

And while it’s great for content, when it gets personal, it becomes — at least in my opinion– no fun. If there were a clear-cut winner, or someone that deserved to be defended, that would be a different story and a different column. But in this case, it doesn’t feel like either side deserves to be praised for their conduct.

As observers, we often forget the people we see on TV or hear on the radio are real people, with real thoughts, real feelings, and real ambitions. It’s just unfortunate that the people who are often subjected to it the most lost sight of that in this situation, too.

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Netflix Knows Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones Bring Eyeballs

The team still draws a crowd.

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A photo of Jerry Jones and a logo for Netflix
Photo: Sports Illustrated

A 10-part series on Jerry Jones here in 2024 feels like roughly eight parts too many. But that is not the Netflix calculation.

No, the math is far simpler: Dallas Cowboys = eyeballs.

It’s been true for as long as most of us can remember – and that particular part about the Cowboys franchise isn’t hype. The team still draws a crowd.

The news in the recent announcement of the 10-parter on Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general overlord, isn’t that it is being produced. That was known last year. But Netflix’s involvement answers the question about on which platform the project might land.

So get ready for plenty of Jerry Jones, but also Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys. And make note of the timeline, because this multi-parter is going to be almost exclusively rooted in a brief, glorious and now quite distant past.

You’ll need to put your 1990s goggles on to recognize the triumphs documented here. It was then that Jones, as a still-young owner by NFL standards, having bought the team in 1989, was the man of record as the Cowboys reeled off three Super Bowl victories in a four-season period.

That is a tremendous accomplishment in any era, and those Cowboys teams were a blast to watch: talented, cocky, demonstrative, controversial. They made news on and off the field, not all to the good. For those of us who wrote about the league in those years, they were a gold mine of source material. And, of course, winning in the NFL is the cologne that masks any little odor that might arise.

Those Dallas teams knew how to win games. How much of that actually had to do with Jerry Jones is a fair question, especially judging by what’s happened since, and I guess we’ll have to wait for Episode 5 or 7 or 9 to find out how this series answers that. But given the fact that the NFL itself insists that the series is “the definitive story of Jerry Jones and his unique journey in transforming the Dallas Cowboys franchise,” we’re already a good ways there.

“For several years, Forbes has ranked the Dallas Cowboys as not only the most valuable team in the NFL, but the most valuable sports team in the world,” the Netflix news release intones. “In 2023, the Cowboys were worth $9 billion and rising — the result of decades of exceptional athletic talent, coaching, and management that took shape during the ’90s, when the once-struggling team transformed into three-time Super Bowl champions.”

As Preston Jones put it in the Dallas Observer, “There are a lot of words doing a lot of heavy lifting in there.”

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were certainly the architects of the roster that Johnson coached, but in that time – during those precise years of the Cowboys winning and winning – I can tell you that most of the NFL cognoscente understood Johnson as the driving force and creative genius.

Jones was well aware of that; it was the source of much of the well-publicized friction between those two. They were high-level, high-ego competitors even as they were part of the same multi-championship run – so much so, in fact, that by the time those Cowboys won ring No. 3 in the 1995 season, Jimmy Johnson had already been replaced, with Jones bringing in longtime friend Barry Switzer after functionally running Johnson off the job.

The decision to part with Johnson was more than three decades ago. Coincidentally, the Cowboys’ drought of winning a Super Bowl – or appearing in a Super Bowl, or appearing in an NFC conference championship, for that matter – is now roughly three decades old.

It’s silly to pre-judge the entire series, which includes interviews with many of the leading lights of those ‘90s successes. The list includes Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, and it also includes Johnson. That alone sounds worth watching.

Of course, you could cover that in an episode or two. But the producers of the series, and now Netflix as distributor, understand the greater value lies in promoting a Cowboys-branded product. Jerry Jones might not like hearing it (or he might not care), but it is a brand whose popularity far, far predates his appearance on the scene.

Brands equal viewers. You watch network baseball, you’re going to get a lot of Yankees and Dodgers. The NBA? Prepare for Celtics, Knicks, Lakers. These are the ratings anchors of large-scale broadcast deals, and in the NFL, the Cowboys are firmly part of the mix.

They may be 5-13 in the playoffs since their last Super Bowl victory back in the ‘90s, but the Dallas Cowboys draw. A 10-part series about Jerry Jones is really just another way of saying, ‘Here’s some more Cowboys material.’ It’ll be consumed.

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Allie LaForce Honored to Have the Best Seat in the House for TNT Sports

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports.”

Derek Futterman

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Allie LaForce
Courtesy: Warner Bros. Discovery

During an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game on TBS, the broadcast read a promo for upcoming coverage of The Masters on CBS Sports and Paramount+. Rather than keeping the camera on the court though, they panned to sideline reporter Allie LaForce, who was sitting courtside unaware of what was going on and suddenly saw herself on the broadcast monitor. Once she realized that her green jacket tied into the promo, she stood up and portrayed a golf swing for the camera, adding to the overall programmatic value of the promotional read.

For LaForce, it served as an example of reacting to spontaneity and showcasing personality without it coming across as forced or contrived. As a multifaceted reporter in a variety of different roles throughout her sports media career, she has adapted to changing times and handled the dynamic game atmosphere with ingenuity and confidence.

While LaForce is the lead sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT and set to cover the Western Conference Finals, she recently completed another run within March Madness. Assimilating into the grind of this role since joining then-named Turner Sports in 2018, she needed to pace herself and ensure she was aptly prepared. Eight practices in one day followed by a four-game First Four slate in Dayton, Ohio and subsequent drive to the first region is a taxing assignment but one she has mastered through her professionalism and college basketball experience at Ohio University. Although her team fell just short of a tournament berth, the exhilaration and adrenaline therein continues to endure, nonetheless.

“I could sit and watch those college kids get one last shot at the tournament all day long, so it gave me energy more than me having to find the energy,” LaForce said. “It gave me so much natural energy.”

Once her stretch of March Madness games ended, LaForce immediately went back on the road to cover the NBA, commuting to various cities every week and contributing within the broadcasts through live reports, interviews and observation. In her reporting role, LaForce scrupulously watches the action and takes in the environment in an effort to identify and convey key storylines to the viewing audience. Executing the job requires synergy and stamina, perseverance and poise while respecting the game and understanding the inherent commitment to fair and accurate reporting disseminated to viewers.

“I think portraying to the audience the closest reality of being in a moment live and recognizing that it’s an honor and a privilege to be sitting courtside,” LaForce said. “How can we portray that same energy, newsworthiness and accuracy to the viewers through television that I get to witness in person?”

The NBA Playoffs have been accompanied by the backdrop of ongoing media rights negotiations as the league looks to solidify its partners for the 2025-26 season and beyond. The Walt Disney Company and Amazon Prime Video have both reportedly reached the framework of a deal with the league, presumably leaving one remaining rights package being pursued by both Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery. Within the latter, TNT Sports, formerly known as Turner Sports, has been broadcasting NBA games since the 1984-85 season and hopes to extend its multiplatform relationship through a deal that makes sense for all parties involved.

“I think there is a direct correlation and association with TNT and our personalities,” LaForce explained, “and how much fun we have while also calling the moment and the game in a newsworthy fashion that the viewers are comfortable with and look forward to that gets to take their mind off of their everyday grind and just live in a moment of freedom and fun and excitement.”

As a national reporter, LaForce is assigned to a variety of games throughout the season containing different teams, thus requiring a broad knowledge of the league. With the strenuous schedule plus trying to raise a family and run a growing charitable endeavor, it can be difficult to balance everything effectively.

When LaForce was growing up, she watched her mother run a modeling agency in Atlanta, Ga. and fly back home to Ohio every week to spend time with family. Her mother happened to be a previous winner of the Miss Ohio pageant, something she had not told her daughter until she received a letter to participate in the Miss Ohio Teen USA pageant. LaForce initially did not want to compete, but her two victories ended up paying dividends through broadening her worldview and gaining creative inspiration.

“I am on a plane every two days, and I’m trying to be a great wife and a great mom and work full time and present myself in a confident way that people that are viewing me believe in me, and storytell in a way that’s honest and compassionate,” LaForce said. “I think when I was 15 years old, I was trying to take high school classes, play three high school sports, travel the country and present myself and make other young men and women believe in me in a genuine manner.”

While LaForce was in college playing on the basketball team as a walk-on member, she remembers realizing that she would need to eventually give up the sport. Her mother had previously commented on her resonant baritone voice and recommended that she be a broadcaster. LaForce was granted an opportunity to work as an analyst on the radio for her team and took part in a variety of other ventures at the school with WOUB Public Media and volunteering for the Mid-American Conference.

LaForce perceived herself as being restricted because of her role as a sideline reporter, something that changed upon her joining CBS Sports as lead sideline reporter for its broadcasts of SEC football. The endeavor marked the first time she recognized the strategy behind when and how to deliver a live game report, something taught to her by producer Craig Silver.

“There’s a sense of urgency to this game that the audience needs to feel because we’re feeling it here on the field, right?,” LaForce said. “The roar and the clock and the band and the pageantry of the game. It has to be short because there’s a pace and a momentum and a newsworthiness to this game that’s warranted, and your reporting needs to match that.”

Through a cognizance and acceptance of her role as an element of a larger component, LaForce began to find her niche in reporting. On top of that, her background as an athlete allowed her to easily decipher plays, mannerisms and proclivities. The challenge exists in delivering observations and updates precisely and at the correct time. In covering NBA games at the national level since 2018, LaForce has worked to hone her craft and embrace the setting without being buried in patterns of overthinking and inflexibility.

“I used to over plan and take a trillion notes throughout the course of the game, and now I just let myself live in the game,” LaForce said. “And when we get down to the last minute or two, I start jotting down notes about, ‘This guy whispered something to this guy here,’ or, ‘During this free throw, I noticed this,’ or, ‘During a timeout, I felt tension.’”

Although LaForce has refined her in-game process, she still tries to prepare before each contest. Part of that comes in re-reading conversation transcripts with the top eight players on every team and grasping the necessary context. Moreover, she reviews lineups, rotations and other facets of the game she would want to know as a basketball fan.

“I like to take my job seriously but not too seriously,” LaForce said. “I want the viewer to think that I’m hanging out with them watching sports, but also I want to be professional enough to be able to distinguish between just having fun and actually being a reporter.”

Over the course of a typical game, LaForce is doing more than appearing on camera and conveying the latest information. In part because of her vantage point and expertise, she is consistently communicating with those in the broadcast truck and helping to guide the composition of the broadcast. LaForce takes part in production meetings every morning and ultimately has an implicit yet tangible presence on the end product throughout the show.

When LaForce conducts interviews, she tries to begin with a sense of levity to foster a sense of comfort and amicability. Commencing a casual dialogue before these conversations also helps break down a barrier that can sometimes exist because of the nature of the schedule. This is not always possible though, as was evidenced when LaForce was forsaken by the Oklahoma City Thunder after a playoff win to speak with Bally Sports Oklahoma.

“You have to realize that as the national broadcaster, you come in out of nowhere and get the first interview and are asking questions that they perhaps have been being asked for the last week to 10 days from their local broadcast crews,” LaForce said. “They’re there daily and really know them, so you have to remember that the people interviewing them daily understand their career and their team in the moment.”

Working as a reporter requires LaForce to have relationships around the league that are built on trust and respect. No matter the circumstance, she adheres to rules of attribution and does not divulge details that have been classified as being off the record. At the same time, if she develops friendships with team or league entities, she expects them to understand that she needs to do her job professionally and may not always be able to portray them in an auspicious light.

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports,” LaForce said. “And then if there’s something that they don’t say is off the record, but I feel should be, I will figure out a way to tell that story without using that piece of information but use that information to shape the way in which I tell the story.”

LaForce cherishes the balance of professional and personal ventures in her life and aspires to continue covering marquee events, such as the National Championship, Super Bowl and Olympics. Having the chance to experience a wide array of moments in sports is something she knows would be a dream come true, but she is focused on the present moment in closing out the season strong for the NBA on TNT. After all, an essential value proposition of the broadcast is predicated on disseminating insights and developments in real time, part of which is actualized by the work of LaForce and her unrelenting commitment to the grind.

“Be prepared in the beginning to work for free, and always surround yourself [with] people that are helping you become a better version of yourself as a professional and as an individual, even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear,” LaForce said. “But avoid the people that are trying to have influence on you because it makes them feel important or powerful.”

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