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Joy Taylor Brings the Best of Herself to the Air Every Day

“When I’m sitting at a bar talking to people about sports or sitting around the house watching a game, there’s no apologies given for the opinions. I think that’s what makes opinion shows that are really great and cut through and resonate.”

Derek Futterman

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Joy Taylor
Courtesy: Joy Taylor

LeBron James made headlines when he announced that he would be teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach as a member of the Miami Heat in 2010. While his departure struck discordance in Cleveland, it was a means for celebration in Florida. Later that summer, James declared the team would win multiple championships. True to his word, the Heat hoisted the trophy twice during James’ tenure. National and local sports media outlets were consistently on hand to cover the team, including Joy Taylor, who was a sports radio host at 790 The Ticket.

From a young age, Taylor became enthralled by the sound of sports radio and wanted to find a way to express her opinion and find her voice. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Penn. with several brothers, she was quickly immersed into the world of sports and observed the zealous passion fans have for their favorite teams.

One of her brothers, Jason, played 15 seasons in the National Football League as a defensive end on the Miami Dolphins and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Taylor was an athlete as well, growing up playing volleyball, basketball, and soccer while also running track. During her freshman year of college, she participated in track and field on a scholarship, but ultimately chose to focus on her broadcast communication studies and transferred to Barry University.

“I was always a lover of radio and I love the ability to bring people into the room with you that radio provided,” Taylor explained, “which is why I started on the radio side of the business because I wanted to be a personality and give my opinion. Sports media – being able to be a part of history and to witness these incredible moments and athletic feats; and [to] be able to consume something that I consume as a fan every day and be able to talk about and give my opinion is a really amazing job.”

Aside from managing WBRY, the student-run radio station at Barry University, Taylor worked as an intern for various local media outlets – the first of which was 560 WQAM on The Joe Rose Show. In addition to Rose’s morning program, Taylor also had a chance to work with DJ Laz on Power 96 (WPOW-FM), a station in the pop music format, and became familiar with different aspects of working in the industry.

Both hosts served as mentors that contributed to Taylor finding her footing in the industry upon graduating, leading to her first job as a part-time producer with WQAM.

“I had a lot of the technical experience of shooting and editing and running the board and bringing in calls, [plus] booking guests, stacking shows [and] reaching out to different artists or athletes to come on the show,” Taylor said. “All of those nuanced skills that you get from being a producer, I had a good base of as an intern and working at the radio station.”

When Marc Hochman and Jonathan Zaslow began hosting a morning drive radio show together on rival outlet 790 The Ticket, the station tabbed Taylor to work as its producer. While she mostly handled behind-the-scenes work and ensured the show ran smoothly, there were moments when she would interpolate her perspectives over the air.

Just over a year later, Hochman’s contract expired and he was unable to reach an agreement on a new deal with the station. Ultimately, his spot in the mornings was taken by Taylor to create the Zaslow and Joy Show.

The program, which was produced by Brendan Tobin, discussed sports and a wide array of other topics involving culture and entertainment while also taking calls. It became a hit in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area as the duo talked about the play of the Dolphins, emergence of the Marlins, and, of course, the championship aspirations of the Heat. The key, however, was to keep the conversation going no matter how difficult it became, making preparation and chemistry imperative aspects of maintaining a stellar on-air product.

“When people who I’ve worked with throughout the business find out or know that I started on the sports radio side of the business, there’s a very interesting level of respect that follows knowing that, ‘Okay, you did that. We know we can throw you in the fire and you’ll be able to handle it,’” Taylor said. “….Doing a radio show where you really have to fill that much time can really prepare you for what will happen on live television.”

Local sports radio, while it is changing, remains a strong and valuable means of connection to fans and an outlet where the audience can join the conversation. Concentrated in television for nearly the last decade – initially with CBS Sports as the host of digital shows Thursday Night Live and Fantasy Football Today – she hopes the medium can discover more effective ways to implement the audience.

The problem lies in that since most networks choose to utilize social media for that very purpose, they are inundated with a tautology of enmity because of the existential penchant to disagree. Instead of becoming perturbed by the strife, producers decided to embrace it and use it as the basis for debate-based programming.

“Hostility is the love language of sports fans,” Taylor said. “When I’m sitting at a bar talking to people about sports or sitting around the house watching a game, there’s no apologies given for the opinions. I think that’s what makes opinion shows that are really great and cut through and resonate.”

Joy Taylor | Undisputed
Courtesy FOX Sports

Taylor departed 790 The Ticket and moved across the country to Los Angeles, Calif. where she helped introduce a new morning debate show on FOX Sports 1 titled Undisputed, featuring Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. The show directly opposed ESPN’s First Take in the mornings with its cast of Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim, but ensured it would adopt its own signature feel and distinct sound.

For Taylor, she felt slight hesitation in moving into a moderator role, especially having emanated from sports radio, a format predicated on expatiatory discourse. The immutable sonority of radio starkly contrasted what she would be stepping into, leading Bayless to make sure that she was comfortable assuming this position. She decided that the benefits outweighed the shortcomings of the position, actuating her commitment towards appearing on camera and sacrificing local familiarity.

“Going into a moderator space is a much more limited role as far as obviously how much you’re involved in the conversation,” Taylor said. “The opportunity to be a part of the launch of Undisputed with Skip and Shannon onto the national stage was an incredible opportunity that I was excited about. It was a different type of work – so I would get to have a job that I hadn’t had before and have the potential to become great at that as well.”

Joy Taylor | Undisputed, NBA Finals
Courtesy FOX Sports

Bayless is frequently criticized by industry professionals and consumers for his obdurate and somewhat apoplectic demeanor. Over the years, there have been several occurrences where he irritated people with the nature of his opinions or insensitivity towards other topics, but his dedication to the craft is simply axiomatic.

“Skip is someone who is extremely routine, and I found that the biggest talents that I work with are extremely routine,” Taylor said. “That was a big lesson for me because that show is so early in the morning on the West Coast – it’s getting up at 3 in the morning. Every minute counts when you’re doing a show that early, and you really have to shape your lifestyle around it as well.”

Sharpe, who is in talks with ESPN to join First Take as a contributor and aims to continue his popular Club Shay Shay podcast, has worked in sports media virtually from the time he retired from playing professional football. While he is no longer on Undisputed, those around the industry are excited about his future endeavors and know that his professionalism and proficiency will take him far and allow his star to continue flourishing.

“Shannon is obviously a legendary player with enormous amounts of experience and stories and relationships within the sport,” Taylor said, “but [he] also is such a big sports fan and is able to express it so well that he brought such an amazing energy and the force to the show. He really came into his own and leaned into what made a just really incredible and entertaining show.”

Taylor did not enter the job having never worked in television, as she freelanced on a variety of programming when she was in Miami. Yet entering a network role and trying to attain a share of the audience was a strenuous task and required synergy among the cast and other staffers. Because of this, the program had several practice shows before it took the air so everyone could discern each other’s tendencies and the best way to execute their roles.

“Learning the personalities and the cadences and what different topics are going to bring out of the guys was important to moving the show along and making it not just a great television show, but obviously a show that can be on television because you have to get to break and you have to hit certain out times and things like that,” Taylor said.

“For me, I had some experience and obviously studied [by] watching shows that had those moderator roles, but I wanted to be able to do it in a way that made our show with our unique personalities great.”

Undisputed seems to be adopting a similar approach to First Take when it decided to move on from Kellerman, replacing him with a rotating lineup of contributors to join Smith and Qerim at the desk. Over the last several weeks, the show has reportedly hired Richard Sherman, Lil Wayne and Rachel Nichols to oppose Bayless on a rotating basis, and more signings are expected to be announced before it returns on Aug. 28.

“I think it offers another layer of nuance to the conversation,” Taylor said. “You can have an expert in a field on something or you can have a reporter bringing their perspective. It really changes the dynamic of the show and what you can do within segments when you have more people.”

While Taylor was moderating the debate show, she was also being utilized by FOX Sports 1 as a fill-in host of the nationally syndicated sports radio program, The Herd, which is usually hosted by Colin Cowherd. When Kristine Leahy left the show in April 2018, Taylor was tabbed to take her place as Cowherd’s new permanent co-host. The duo already had an idea of how the show was produced and each other’s hosting styles, shortening the integration period and granting the audience a level of familiarity.

“Like any new show, you kind of have to feel each other out and get to know each other,” Taylor said. “Doing fill-in and five days a week is completely different, so I think we grew into it. Over time, [we] really got to know each other and really got to trust each other.”

Cowherd engages in intense preparation before his three-hour radio show and is dedicated to providing his audience with worthwhile and informative content. Since the show is simulcast on FOX Sports 1, he is coordinating with producers, directors, and graphic designers to safeguard against errors and comes into the studio energized to give the listeners his best.

“[Colin] feels a real obligation to the audience to do a good show,” Taylor said. “He feels like if someone’s going to give their time to watch or listen to the show, they should get what they came for – which is a high-quality sports show. It’s a long show to do – it’s three hours long and you’ve got to fill that.”

A national radio show requires expertise in various different areas of professional sports, which renders preparation, although it can be hackneyed, consequential to success. Since the show is not localized, the teams, players, and leagues being discussed can vary on a daily basis. When there are absolutely no sports being played over several months, as was the case at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, their knowledge and chemistry kept the show alive.

“We really had to rely on each other to do the show because that’s a lot of time to fill when there’s essentially not any news,” Taylor said. “….That time really changed a lot of things for us from as far as trusting each other on air and what Colin would give me to do.”

Taylor’s time hosting Undisputed accentuated her ability to captivate viewers despite being in a role that afforded her minimal chances to speak. Although it was outside her familiar locale, she voiced her opinions and amalgamated information with entertainment. When Taylor gave her input into the situation, it was always strong and based on facts or knowledge she accrued.

Upon learning that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was being investigated by the National Football League in a domestic violence case, it became a point of discussion on Undisputed. The investigation found that he engaged in physical violence at multiple junctures, and he ended up receiving a six-game suspension without pay.

While he was implicated by the league, Elliott was never criminally charged as a perpetrator of domestic violence wherefore team owner Jerry Jones was furious with the decision. After a protracted legal battle, which included the suspension being put on hold three times, the ruling was upheld and Elliott was forced to sit out.

Taylor is a survivor of domestic violence and gave her perspective on the show after the NFLPA filed a lawsuit against the National Football League for its ruling. Viewers of the show could see how she was affected by the news and the implications it would have for future cases.

In 2021, she founded The Joy Taylor Foundation, dedicated to assisting survivors of domestic violence and fighting homelessness since the two are often intertwined. The organization also holds events related to youth empowerment, including a girls’ flag football camp leading up to the Super Bowl in an attempt to positively impact those in the area.

“I think being a part of the community and giving back is essential for everyone, not just public figures,” Taylor said, “but I do have a platform and I feel a responsibility to use it.”

Joy Taylor | The Herd
Courtesy FOX Sports

In addition to working with Cowherd, Taylor also began her own podcast titled Maybe I’m Crazy with co-host Brendan Newman. While broadcasting that show, they penetrated beyond the world of sports and found an audience through digital distribution platforms. Taylor eventually began hosting her own radio program on Saturday afternoons, effectively ending the podcast but still providing her a platform separate from The Herd.

“I think I’m unapologetic and passionate, but [I] also realize that we’re blessed to be able to cover sports and talk about sports for a living,” Taylor expressed. “We’re not out here saving lives, so we should have a little fun while we’re doing it.”

When FOX Sports 1 shuffled its daytime lineup last fall, she accepted a role to host a revamped afternoon show, Speak, featuring Emmanuel Acho and LeSean McCoy. Once again, Taylor moved away from radio and back to focusing on television full-time and learning the subtleties of a new program. On the air though, she has considerably more time to convey her opinions than she did on Undisputed; however, there is some overlap in terms of the skillset she equips in front of the camera.

“Obviously observing meetings, learning how we produce the show [and] how to prep for a specific take knowing, ‘Okay, I think they know that they feel like this and I know that I’m going to disagree and they might bring this up – so I’m going to make sure I have this statistic,’” Taylor said. “All these different things that I learned from being on Undisputed, I use on the show today.”

The show, however, is not predicated on debate – rather it expounds on the topics of the day. There are various recurring segments throughout the show that keep people engrossed and wanting to come back for more. Taylor diligently prepares for each episode of the show, especially when they interview special guests, to make sure it is mutually beneficial for all parties involved.

“I’m not looking for a viral moment or someone to say something that they shouldn’t be saying or anything like that,” Taylor said. “I want someone to feel comfortable, to have fun, and most of all for it to be conversational.”

While she has plenty of television experience, Taylor’s ability to fill time and offer new perspectives was accentuated by radio. She conveys confidence and erudition on the air and understands the value of relating to the viewers. It is a part of departing local sports radio that she fervently misses and hopes can be somewhat implemented on television.

“There were loyal fans of the show that would come to appearances and you know them [and] see their kids, and you know when they call into the show, you know exactly who they are,” Taylor said. “There was this real connection with the audience that could exist because of the platform.”

Since Taylor got her start in Miami and gained considerable exposure while hosting on 790 The Ticket, learning that Audacy was moving the station out of the sports format was particularly difficult news to stomach. Miami lost a local sports media outlet, part of a larger trend due to rising operating costs and a capricious advertising market.

While its sports programming officially came to a halt after 18 years last October, it signed off leaving an indelible legacy in the area and influencing the future of the format.

“That was heartbreaking for me,” Taylor said. “There’s so many careers that started there, blossomed there, and have gone to really great things nationally and beyond. It was just a very unique place – it had a style and an attitude that was unique to that station.”

Taylor is in the midst of a sports media ecosystem where there is more supply and demand for niche content, but a small portion that consistently cuts through. There are opportunities for growth through digital and social media platforms like never before, and creating intriguing content can be achieved simply by using a mobile device.

Professionals like Taylor though stand out by knowing how to oscillate between objectivity and subjectivity, and doing so in a way that aligns with the interests of the public.

“The way that I connect with the audience is by being my true self, and that’s what I’ve tried to do throughout my career,” Taylor said. “In the moments that I have to be myself and the moments that I have to shine if you will, I’m going to shine as myself. I think the main thing that audiences connect with is authenticity.”

Most of Taylor’s television career has been spent with FOX Sports, and she is now on her third show with its dedicated sports programming network. In covering stories and expressing her opinions, she has developed professional relationships with colleagues and personalities from other networks. Having a reliable contact base keeps her informed about breaking news, story angles, and future collaborations.

Additionally, it is part of the reason why burning a bridge can prove costly in the long run, for everyone is interconnected to a certain extent.

“It’s really important to be professional, but also [to] maintain relationships with people that you work with or that you meet, and to network,” Taylor said. “….Relationships are very important, and I think anybody who works in this business would tell you that.”

Throughout her entire career, Taylor has shattered boundaries and proven to be a trailblazer. As a woman in sports media, she has been subject to heightened levels of criticism and misogyny over the years. What has made it even more challenging, Taylor explained, is that she is a Black woman and needs to defend the value and legitimacy of her opinions.

Before pursuing a career, Taylor observed journalists such as Jemele Hill, who allowed her to envision herself as being capable of realizing prosperity and longevity in the industry.

“I didn’t used to view myself that much as a role model or someone that was looked at that way, but I’m in a space where there’s very few of us and it’s very important to me because I want to see more women in this space,” Taylor expressed. “The idea of, ‘There’s only one job for a woman and any particular role a woman has to be in;’ the more women there are, the less of that is a thing.”

Manifest Destiny brought Taylor to Los Angeles, recognizing that there was an opportunity to grow by working in television on a brand-new show. Over the years, she has continued to vacillate between the two mediums and possesses coveted versatility that allows her to thrive. She has been consistent in her approach, remaining focused on being the best version of herself possible – and exhibiting it to the audience.

“Always be authentic,” Taylor said. “You can always learn from other people and study their habits and how they prep or how they do [something], but you are unique. What’s going to make you most successful is being the best version of herself.”

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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

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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

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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

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Graphic that shows two people negotiating
Graphic Courtesy: Soject.com

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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