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As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain

“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”

Derek Futterman

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A photo of Bob Costas
Courtesy: Bob Costas

Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.

“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”

Costas on the Air

Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.

“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”

When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball. 

In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.

“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”

Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.

“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”

Costas on America’s Pastime

Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.

Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.

Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.

“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”

In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.

“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”

Costas on Reporting

When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.

“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”

As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.

“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”

Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.

When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.

Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.

Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.

“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”

Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.

“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”

Costas on the Gridiron

Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much. 

After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.

“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”

The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.

“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”

With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.

“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”

ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal,  gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.

“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”

Costas on Modern Media

An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate. 

CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.

Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.

While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media. 

For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.

“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”

The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.

“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”

There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.

Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.

“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”

In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.

“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”

Costas on the Future

The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.

“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”

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Eavesdropping: Busted Open on SiriusXM

“If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers. But what you got because of Cody’s victory last night was tears.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping: Busted Open Radio

The day after the Super Bowl, it’s always fun to hear sports radio in the two towns which had teams in the game. In that same vein, I tuned into Busted Open on SiriusXM the day after WrestleMania weekend.

Host Dave LaGreca, who plays the role of the fan on the show, was joined live from WWE World by co-hosts Tommy Dreamer, Mark Henry and Bully Ray. The fan exhibit was not open to the public at the start of the show, but fans entered the picture after the first hour.

The first hour of this particular show went about as fast as a radio show can possibly move. As soon as the show started the hosts immediately got into making fun of Bully Ray, who had been a surprise guest-referee in a match during WrestleMania night two, for how he looked in the referee uniform.

“Allow me to be the very first to admit those stripes don’t look the best on me,” the WWE Hall of Famer replied to the jokes.

Mark Henry jumped in to say, “It was kind of just what WrestleMania needed. To have the ECW influence on the show, great representation for the brand and showing respect to Paul Heyman as well.” Heyman had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during the weekend and was celebrated not only for his WWE contributions but as the creator of ECW, which was based in Philadelphia, where he first worked with Bully Ray who was then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.

“I had people backstage in WWE telling me ‘We have never seen you smile that much in life ever,’ said Bully Ray “…I jumped at the opportunity. Too much fun.  Last night was the first WrestleMania that I got to appreciate…the level of stress that came with [when you are performing in the matches] you’re not able to take it all in…it’s really not fun because it’s so stressful.”

Bully Ray said he could feel the pop as he was introduced and really enjoyed getting to “smell the roses for the first time.”

LaGreca could no longer hold it in. He cut off the talk about his co-host participating in WrestleMania and moved on to the heart of the matter. In the main event the night before, Cody Rhodes had ended the run of Roman Reigns as the Undisputed Universal Champion after more than three and a half years. More importantly to the hosts and fans alike, the story of Cody Rhodes building to this moment was one they all agreed was one of the great moments in WrestleMania history.

Of course, WWE loves surprises and on the second night of this year’s WrestleMania, they had plenty in store. The Rock had already come back to be a part of the WrestleMania 40 storyline and then during the Sunday main event, John Cena and The Undertaker came out as surprises.

Bully Ray gave a great description of what he was doing as the main event was happening. He said he was with Damian Priest, who had earlier in the evening won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and while they didn’t plan to watch the main event live, when it started, they thought they needed to see it. “We ran through the halls and go out into the arena,” he said. “Guys, when the gong hit for The Undertaker, the both of us turned into 12-year-olds…we were jumping up and down…lost it, loved it.”

Mark Henry said, “We reacted the same way. I cannot imagine what that must’ve felt like in person.” Bully Ray replied, “When you can hear the pop in a stadium, you know the pop is big.”

LaGreca said, “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about with night number one, but night two was just hit, after hit, after hit. And that main event, with all the stories that played out and had a conclusion during that match…You couldn’t have played that out to a better conclusion than what we saw last night.”

The hosts then listened to an audio clip from the previous year, where the day after WrestleMania some fans, including LaGreca, were extremely disappointed that Cody Rhodes did not beat Roman Reigns and “finish his story” then. At the time, Bully Ray had said there was a bigger picture story WWE would build that would show Cody fighting hard times much like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes had gone through. Mark Henry agreed.

LaGreca said he was “eating some crow” but then admitted it’s all part of it where the emotion gets so high, and he pointed out that people were actually crying when the main event ended.  “If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers.  But what you got because of Codys victory last night was tears,” LaGreca said. “This is an end of one story, but more importantly the beginning of a new story.”

LaGreca came back from a break and reverted immediately back to what the difference was in Rhodes winning the title in 2024 versus having done it in 2023. “It went from a great moment…to maybe one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time last night,” he said.

There was strong insight given out by all of the former wrestlers at different times during the show, and they also pointed to things a casual fan may not have picked up on. One of those happened when you heard ring announcer Samantha Irvin get genuinely emotional in announcing Rhodes as the new champion.

“We’re not used to hearing emotion in a ring announcer’s voice, so Samantha Irvin brought something special and extra to the table in that announcement,” said Bully Ray.

Tommy Dreamer added, “It was the most perfect imperfection ever and it made that moment even more real…it was something that will be remembered through the annals of time.”

As the hosts continued to talk about the emotion of the night, Henry said, “It felt like WE won.” This gave Bully Ray the chance to sum it all up as he said, “The key word that you just said, WE. Cody made you feel like you were a part of his struggle. You were a part of his story.”

Henry went on to say, “I felt like last night, for the first time, that I could almost cry for Cody. I honestly felt emotional seeing him become the face of this new era, the ‘Triple H’ era….Wrestling is a feel business and if you don’t feel it then it’s not worth really putting on television. I felt that [last night] and I know every fan felt that.”

The hosts continued to give insight as they discussed a gift given to Cody Rhodes by WWE executives backstage and a spot where a table broke before it was supposed to and how smoothly the performers pivoted. Having Henry, Dreamer and Bully Ray on the show allows for a lot of this type of discussion where they can give perspective from having been in the ring.

Later LeGreca is asked if he would rank this WrestleMania up there with WrestleMania 17, widely considered the best of all time. LeGreca said if night number two stood on its own he would say it was better, but perhaps not if you consider both nights. The panel as a whole agreed it was definitely up there as one of the best and Henry noted it will be the highest grossing, so that is one way to judge which was the best.

“There were very few holes in that show,” Dreamer said.

While the first hour was rapid fire and had a ton of great reaction to all of the highlights of the night before, the show took a bit of a turn in the second hour. As the crowd became a part of the show it seemed to change the demeanor of the hosts a bit, especially LaGreca who seemed to be playing to the crowd rather than the listening audience. He yelled out “We did it!” talking about Cody Rhodes winning and then led a “Cody! Cody! Cody!” chant that didn’t go over well to those not on site.

Then there was a very strange guest appearance by WWE superstar Liv Morgan which seemed to bring the show to a halt. Later, Kevin Owens was live on the show and his appearance made a lot more sense as he participated in WrestleMania and had thoughts to share about others who performed and the storylines which were created. Owens helped bring the energy of the show back up and you could tell as a listener how passionate he is about wrestling and what took place during WrestleMania 40.

The programmer in me would remind the hosts not to do the show for their hardcore fans only, as they have to assume people are coming in and out of the show. They had incredible content in the first hour with really strong opinions from their experts, but there was never any resetting or going back to what was talked about, which I thought was a bit of a miss.

With that said, if you are a wrestling fan and you didn’t feed off the energy and excitement the hosts had for what they had witnessed the night before, something is wrong with you. Busted Open Radio was an excellent listen as a follow up to what was a memorable WresleMania weekend.

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Andrew Catalon is Prepared to Meet the Moment

“You get excited like a fan would – you inform – but ultimately the game is the show, and you’re just kind of there to supplement what we’re watching.”

Derek Futterman

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Andrew Catalon
Courtesy: John Paul Filo, CBS

The city of Pittsburgh is known for its propensity to build, serving as the point of widespread adoption of steel-making that revolutionized the construction industry for perpetuity. Situated at the conjunction of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, the locale is fixed at the pathway of innovation and splendor where what may seem impossible can expeditiously render itself into reality. Even though Andrew Catalon did not forecast it beforehand, he found himself at the intersection of fantasy and reality at PPG Paints Arena during a game within the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The No. 14 Oakland Golden Grizzlies were closing in on an all-time upset of the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats, and time was waning on the clock.

Catalon has called many upset victories behind the microphone across a variety of sports since starting his work as a play-by-play announcer. Just one year ago, he delivered an enduring call of No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson defeating No. 1 Purdue in the first round of the tournament. Fans can purchase T-shirts with Catalon’s verbiage of “FDU Believe It?!,” commemorating what is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport and demonstrating the impact of his words. The key to it all is to remain focused on the action taking place on the court in order to deliver an accurate and apropos soundtrack to the moment.

“I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned with some of the upsets over the years is not to get ahead of yourself,” Catalon said. “It’s a long game, and there will be time at the end to explain the significance of it, but before that, you’ve got to call the game and stay within that moment.”

Throughout his broadcast career, Catalon has broadcast 300 college basketball games and usually does not think about hypotheticals; however, the FDU-Purdue matchup happened to represent a rare exception in that paradigm. After all, a FDU victory would represent just the second time in tournament history that a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in the bracket. The only other time it had happened was in 2018 when No. 16 UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia, and the moment as delivered by play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz continues to stand the test of time.

“I knew it’d be replayed [and] I wanted to be prepared in that moment, but I also think that being spontaneous and just kind of going with the flow also makes for a good final call,” Catalon said. “Last year I did have that ‘FDU Believe It?!’ kind of in the back of my mind as the game went on, but for Oakland this year, it just kind of came out.”

Once Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves clanked a desperation three-point attempt long off the rim, Catalon exclaimed that Oakland had completed “a March memory of a lifetime.” From there, he let the crowd and marching band tell the story accompanied by a dichotomy of jubilation and despair. Part of what makes that possible is the understanding from color commentator Steve Lappas of how to approach the moment, something that has been built through the countless repetitions he and Catalon have had broadcasting games together. In fact, Catalon estimates he can count the number of college basketball games he has announced without Lappas on his hands.

“I know what he wants to say or when he wants to get in, and he knows when I want to get in and what I want to say, and that just makes it so much better,” Catalon said. “So look, there’s nothing better than having a consistent partner, and I credit CBS for that; they have kept us together.”

Reaching these types of moments requires comprehensive preparation, research and informed observation to understand the teams and accurately report and expound on the surrounding storylines. For a typical March Madness game, Catalon watches the previous matchups for the teams he has coming up on his schedule and reviews his boards from years prior.

“I don’t want to be the guy that just parachutes in having never seen a team before, and I think fans can detect that, so my prep is always to get up to speed so that a viewer of a team doesn’t think that, ‘This guy hasn’t watched us play,’ or, ‘This guy doesn’t know what we’re all about.’ That would be a huge disservice to the viewer and to the fan, and that’s always what I try to accomplish in my prep.”

Catalon has sought to prove that he can come through in the clutch during his time working in sports media, bringing a consistent approach to his craft no matter if it is among the strident crowd at a college basketball arena or the subdued greens of Augusta National. Over the course of the week, he has been on-site to call the 88th edition of The Masters golf tournament from Augusta, Ga., a revered tradition that takes place annually with its coveted green jacket and several other lucrative prizes hanging in the balance. With the inherent spirit of congenial competition subdued yet effervescent, storytelling takes center stage with a keen foresight and cognizance of the moment.

“There’s a lot more teamwork involved,” Catalon said. “You think about a broadcast – we have 7-8 announcers as opposed to two or three for a football or basketball game – and that’s another big part of camaraderie and partnership is spending time with that golf crew so that when I pinch hit for Jim Nantz, it’s seamless. I don’t want them to think that, ‘Okay, we’re in a different broadcast because Jim’s not here.’”

Nantz has been hosting coverage of The Masters since 1989 and has become synonymous with the tournament itself, authoring its slogan, “A tradition unlike any other.” Catalon understands the responsibility he incurs when taking the air from Augusta and is living out a longtime career aspiration of calling golf. Leading up to a pivotal shot or tournament-winning putt, he works to effectively contextualize the situation and let it play out in the environment.

“No one can fill Jim’s shoes and I’m not trying to,” Catalon said, “but I want to make sure that that team knows that I’m doing my homework and that they can count on me to deliver in the big moment.”

From the time he was an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, Catalon knew that he had a penchant for sports media and began gaining repetitions at WAER, the student-run radio station. Calling football, basketball and lacrosse games, he developed professional friendships and gained a broader understanding of the industry itself. Being situated in the broadcast booth, he developed ideas of how to approach a game and an ability to translate the feats of athleticism and achievement into succinct, nuanced phraseology.

“There’s no doubt that all the reps that I got in college at WAER have certainly helped me not only get a job, but also for a lot of the stuff that I do now,” Catalon said. “I still make my boards the same exact way I did in college. I handwrite everything with different colored markers and pens, and I just retain the information better.”

Before Catalon was calling sporting events though, he had not settled on play-by-play announcing as his primary career path. Instead, he applied to work at WVNY, a local news television station in Burlington, Vt. and was later hired over the phone as its sports director. As a result, Catalon moved to the city without ever seeing the station and remembers immediately being part of the regular workflow.

“It was a whole new world of learning how to run a department and kind of how to be mature,” Catalon said. “When you’re that young, you learn a lot of lessons, and it was an unbelievable experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job out of college.”

Three years later, WVNY announced that it was closing its news department and was consequently laying off several of its employees. Catalon was among the job cuts, a devastating outcome that prepared him to move back home. Yet he received assistance from his colleagues, specifically WVNY news director Peter Speciale, and helped him land a new job as a weekend anchor on WNYT in Albany, N.Y. two months later. While he was in the capital city of New York, the outlet allowed him to seize other industry opportunities to augment his versatility, including freelance play-by-play announcing for SportsNet New York (SNY) and CBS Sports Network.

“They were incredible to allow me to do all these opportunities,” Catalon said. “Very rarely did I have to say ‘No.’ They were very accommodating with my schedule, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude because they allowed me to do all those things while I was still a full-time employee.”

Carr-Hughes Productions in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. gave Catalon the chance to voice over a curling show in their studios, and he eventually expanded his portfolio to include luge and equestrian. In 2007, NBC was looking for new curling announcers, leading Catalon to be recommended and calling a curling exhibition in Rockefeller Center. The next year, he contributed to Olympics coverage for the first time, calling handball games remotely from the network’s New York studios.

When the games were in Vancouver, B.C. in 2010, Catalon traveled to the city to call curling matches. It was there where he met award-winning sports anchor Fred Roggin, who was hosting coverage of the sport for NBC. During a dinner they had over the three weeks they were working together, Roggin shared an observation he had made about Catalon with him that fundamentally altered the trajectory of his career.

“He’s like, ‘Hey, I know you love doing the local news,’ and that’s what he did; he said, ‘but I really think that you’ve got what it takes to be a play-by-play guy, and I think that you should focus on that,’” Catalon remembered Roggin telling him. “Hearing that from him – who had been in the business for so long and who was doing what I wanted to do – I really valued his opinion, and I would say after that Olympics, I really turned my attention to focus on play-by-play.”

Catalon officially joined CBS Sports full time as a play-by-play announcer in 2013, but he had been steadily assimilated into the role with several opportunities years earlier. The first National Football League game he broadcast came in 2011 in an AFC matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals when he was asked to fill in for Bill Macatee. As has turned out to be happenstance for Catalon, the game ended in the final seconds when Bengals kicker Mike Nugent struck a 43-yard field goal for the win.

“When you’re in a close game and there’s strategy talk and you have those opportunities, you’ve got to step up and nail it,” Catalon said. “I think that I showed them in that game that I could handle a close game, NFL big stage. And after that, more and more opportunities came, but every one I treated like it was my last, and I knew that I had to do a good job to prove it to them that I could do this on a full-time basis.”

As the years went on, Catalon continued to garner more opportunities and worked to further refine his commentary to appeal to a national audience. While there are differences in the profile of a football game and golf tournament, he understands that it is his job to accentuate and describe the moments over the course of action. Through it all, he seeks to be relatable, informative and entertaining to his audience in disseminating an accurate account to pair with the video.

“I try to be the guy that you’d want to have a beer with if you’re at a restaurant watching the game,” Catalon said. “You want to come across where you’re not overbearing. You get excited like a fan would – you inform – but ultimately the game is the show, and you’re just kind of there to supplement what we’re watching.”

Catalon had been working with James Lofton on NFL games for several seasons, but CBS Sports revealed various changes across its announcing teams ahead of the 2023 regular season. As the play-by-play announcer on a new broadcast team featuring two analysts – former running back and WFAN afternoon host Tiki Barber; and former quarterback Matt Ryan – and reporter AJ Ross, Catalon spent time familiarizing himself with his new colleagues and building rapport applicable to the broadcast. Weekly dinners and several rounds of golf was part of this assimilation process and led to an enjoyable season with the broadcast team.

“I think because of that, we bonded as a group a lot faster than maybe I have with other partners in the past just because we had no choice but to kind of get up to speed quickly,” Catalon said. “Matt did a tremendous job in his first year, and Tiki is phenomenal as well and AJ is one of the best out there, so I feel lucky that I was with this group, and it was definitely one of the more fun seasons I’ve had on CBS.”

In calling three different sports throughout the year that require different preparation and travel, Catalon frequently has a packed schedule. With this heavy workload, he has a vocal coach to ensure he is doing what is necessary to keep his voice strong. Catalon is proactive to safeguard against losing his voice, something that can occur more readily during March Madness because of the volume of games he is calling in short proximity.

There are occurrences where it takes some time for his voice to bounce back, and he remains prudent, so he is able to perform his job. Aside from his role to the fans, Catalon is working hard for his family and wants to make them proud.

“It’s not easy for any announcer who travels like we do to be away from their family and to miss weddings or kids’ soccer games,” Catalon said. “You have to understand when you get into this business that there’s a lot of things that you’re going to miss, and you have to have an understanding family along the way, and I’m lucky that I have one.”

Although there is no guarantee Catalon will be present for another stunning upset or overtime winner, he looks at his assignments and breadth of work with gratitude and awareness of his career windfalls. If such instances do happen in the forthcoming assignments though, viewers can rest assured that they are hearing a veteran who knows how to punctuate the climax and conclude the story unfolding in real time.

Even though he is not the author of the event itself, he is among its documentarians who writes the manuscript within a library that aims to stand the test of time. The final buzzer represents a deadline of sorts as he crafts the parlance in real time, embedded with the vernacular of the moment. 

“NFL, college basketball and golf – three of my favorite things – and CBS has all three,” Catalon said. “So I’m so lucky in this job, and I can’t tell you that there’s something I haven’t done that I want to do. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now.”

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The ’70-20-10 Rule’ for Advertising Budgets

No one wants to be the business that holds onto the past and gradually declines.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic for 70-20-10 Rule
Credit: PennyCallingPenny.com

The ’70-20-10 rule’ is a widely accepted concept in business. Google, Coca-Cola, and other big brands manage their resources in a specific ratio to stay cutting-edge and grow. The idea is that 70% of a company’s investment should go to the core business, 20% to new developments, and 10% to new and untested ideas. If you are trying to maximize your ad budget and don’t know how to fit in all the opportunities, try this method. Here is a look at an annual advertising budget of $120,000. The clients’ best months of the year are November and December. Here is how the 70-20-10 rule could be applied to maximize returns while minimizing risks.

70%: Proven Strategies – $84K

The foundation of your advertising budget should be built on proven strategies that consistently deliver results. Allocate 70% of your budget to these safe bets. These are proven campaigns that you know will work from history or borrowing tactics from industry-trusted sources. In general, these are ad campaigns on proven platforms, such as radio, TV, Google and Facebook. Advertisers should use these tactics 12 months a year to provide a consistent return. This will establish a solid foundation for your advertising strategy while minimizing risk. Spend $7,000 each month on proven winners.

20%: Competitor Tactics – $24K

To unlock higher returns and explore new opportunities, allocate 20% of your budget to advertising initiatives that you have never tried before, but maybe your competitors are using successfully. These activities could include OTT commercials, TikTok or email marketing. You could handle these chores yourself or ask a trusted media partner, like your TV or radio rep, to assist you with their locally based digital department. It is sometimes easier to rely on trusted partners when exploring new spending in areas you are unfamiliar with. Since the best time of year for this business is November and December, this $24,000 should be spent in these two months to maximize results. Attacking the busiest time of the year with an extra $24,000 in advertising can yield the best outcome. Testing new initiatives when business is slow is like trying to sell parkas in July. Good luck. 

10%: Out-of-the-Box Ideas – $12K

Trying new concepts is critical to long-term success in advertising. Allocating 10% of your budget to experimental tactics that encourage outside-the-box thinking may lead to results you can’t quickly gauge or have a long-term benefit. Support a local cause or sports team. Generate buzz by handing out mini fans at the local summer fair. Put your ads on car dashboard monitors with QUU from your local radio rep. Spend the money wherever it makes sense for the tactic you are buying; fall, summer, or morning and afternoon drive times. Go with the flow and see if it pays back. These tactics can set you apart from your competition and endear you to audiences. Here is the latest on QUU.

Read and React

Try adapting the ’70-20-10 rule’ to your specific business and goals. Regularly evaluate the performance of your advertising efforts, measure ROI, and be open to adjusting your allocations based on sales AND metrics. Every business wants to be an early adopter of money-making new ideas. No one wants to be the business that holds onto the past and gradually declines. The road is littered with brands that didn’t evolve: Blackberry, Blockbuster, MySpace, etc. Mix up your ad spend with the proven, borrowed, and new to achieve sustainable growth in the long run.

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