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Burke Magnus Likes The Hand He Has to Play at ESPN

“People will get a look into the ESPN business like they’ve never had before.”

Derek Futterman

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Burke Magnus ESPN Feature
Courtesy: ESPN Images

As the days and months began to pass, those within media circles began to realize that the Pac-12 would not attain a new media rights contract. The Power Five conference’s existing 12-year deal with FOX and ESPN expires in 2024, but the schools had trouble coming to a resolution on the best path to pursue. Last summer, UCLA and USC announced that they would move to the Big Ten beginning in 2024, months after it secured a record-breaking media rights deal for seven years and worth more than $8 billion. While the future was beginning to look bleak, securing a new deal was never ruled out entirely.

The peripatetic nature of the college football landscape over the last year has further consolidated the sport, with the Pac-12 now only having four teams remaining. ESPN was involved in discussions to retain those media rights, but nothing came to fruition. Burke Magnus, the new president of content at the network, began his career in sports media largely ingrained in college sports and is disappointed in the outcome.

“We were kind of always hopeful that we could figure something out and continue to be in the Pac-12 business,” Magnus said. “We never really got close, and I think that was more of a factor of their expectations than not matching up with our analysis, and frankly others’ analysis.”

ESPN’s college sports portfolio is in a state of transition after severing its relationship with the Big Ten and agreeing to an exclusive 10-year media rights contract with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) that begins next year. The network had an ability to reach a deal with the Big Ten but ultimately decided to proceed without the property, ending a decades-long partnership. Magnus does not directly deal with rights negotiations, as that is now the responsibility of executive vice president Rosalyn Durant; however, he still contributes to the conversation and provides his input.

“The rights business is kind of an interesting one to operate in and you have to really kind of be somewhat dispassionate about things from an emotional level because things come and go,” Magnus said. “….It’s really something where we’re looking at the overall portfolio across all sports with financial discipline and with research and data informing what’s going to move our business and help grow our business and move it forward.”

Earlier this month, Oregon and Washington joined the Southern California schools in announcing a move to the Big Ten. The next day, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah announced they would join the Big 12, which took a contrasting approach to its media rights negotiations. The conference, led by Commissioner Brett Yormark, opted to begin negotiations with existing partners FOX Sports and ESPN last fall, well before the expiration of the ongoing contract in 2025.

“I think the Big 12 did, in many ways, what [the Pac-12] should have done – recognizing an opportunity to be more in tune with the marketplace and valuation for their product,” Magnus said, “and they were able to be opportunistic with their current partners – FOX and ESPN.”

Having proprietary rights with the SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and most of the Big 12’s schedule – not to mention most other Division I conferences; more than 40 Bowl games and the CFP National Championship Game, ESPN is still the predominant home of college sports. It remains a priority of the network going forward, remaining firmly embedded within its content portfolio.

Rooted in Bristol

ESPN is headquartered in Bristol, Conn., outside of a sprawling metropolis where most media companies choose to open their offices. Yet the “Worldwide Leader” is arguably at the center of today’s turbulent media ecosystem where changes are made that have implications on posterity and enable the ability to innovate.

As a result, The Walt Disney Company’s Chief Executive Officer, Bob Iger, announced a strategic reorganization of the company into three core business segments – entertainment; parks, experiences and products; and ESPN itself. External reports and other obloquy suggested that the company was interested in divesting the sports network, but that has since been refuted when Iger recently emphasized its importance to the Disney brand.

ESPN is in the midst of conversations with other companies in a quest to find a strategic partner to purchase a minority stake in the company, much of which is being handled by Iger and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. Additionally, ESPN will report its own earnings for the first time this fall, providing insight into the metrics of the sports media content powerhouse.

“People will get a look into the ESPN business like they’ve never had before, at least from a financial perspective,” Magnus said. “I think they’ll understand through those reports just how complicated our business is, but at the same time, just how dynamic and how healthy in many ways our business is.”

Throughout the two fiscal quarters within the calendar year, the trend of cord cutting continued its upward trajectory. According to data from Nielsen Media Research, ESPN has 71.2 million cable subscribers, but this July marked the first time FOX Sports 1 surpassed its scale of linear distribution. The network reportedly charges multichannel video distributors $9.42 to carry its networks, and has had to grapple with the loss of nearly 30 million subscribers in the last 12 years.

During Disney’s quarterly earnings call, Iger expressed how the company is reviewing options for the future of its linear networks, most notably ABC. The over-the-air channel is the home of marquee sporting events such as the NBA Finals and CFP National Championship Game and is slated to broadcast Super Bowl LX in 2026. If the company decides to move on from the network, it has the potential to complicate matters pertaining to ongoing media rights deals. Magnus shared that ABC plays “a critical part” in the network’s distribution strategy, but also conveyed that a future with a direct-to-consumer (DTC) product feels inevitable.

ESPN is in the process of developing its own DTC offering under the codename “Project Flagship,” but does not yet have an official plan for its launch. Iger and Pitaro, on numerous occasions, have articulated the inexorable nature of the shift, currently in the exploratory phase. The goal of such a platform would be to give sports fans the ability to purchase ESPN as a standalone product and access all of its studio programming, live game broadcasts and additional content.

“It is an enormous decision that has to be thoroughly vetted and thoroughly modeled,” Magnus said. “That’s what we’re in the process of doing, which is not to suggest it’s not going to happen. It’s just a question of when, which we don’t know; and it’s a question of how, and we don’t know.”

Even so, the network has no plans of abandoning its linear channels and still see the outlets as a feasible value proposition. Instead, ESPN uses the phrase “parallel paths” to describe the multitude of ways consumers can access the product.

“We want to be everywhere a sports fan could possibly consume relevant, premium content,” Magnus said, “and the linear business will continue to be very, very viable for a relatively long term.”

Layoffs Alter the Playing Field

With just weeks to go until kickoff, Senior Vice President of Production Lee Fitting departed the company, complicating matters heading into a new 11-year media rights contract with the National Football League. Fitting was responsible for overseeing both Monday Night Football and College GameDay, properties emerging from intervals of transition. Magnus affirmed that Fitting made invaluable contributions to ESPN in his 25 years with the network and that everyone is “full speed ahead” for the start of football season – the busiest time of year.

“The impact immediately is making sure that nothing falls through the cracks in his absence, which we’ve already put into place,” Magnus said. “Long term, it’s an opportunity for a new leader or leaders to emerge to handle what are two incredibly important sports categories for us.”

The 2023 regular season marks the second year Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will occupy the lead Monday Night Football broadcast booth, joining ESPN after 20 years at FOX Sports. Scott Van Pelt, Ryan Clark and Marcus Spears were added to the Monday Night Countdown team after frequent revisions over the last several years. The alteration of the studio team, however, was necessitated after the network laid off various members of its on-air talent pool – including host Suzy Kolber and analyst Steve Young.

FOX Sports has inked multiple recently-retired athletes, including Derek Jeter, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, with little to no broadcasting experience to lucrative contracts over the last several years. ESPN has not operated in as pronounced of a manner as FOX Sports, but is continuing the ManningCast with Peyton and Eli Manning for select Monday Night Football games on ESPN2.

“I think we’re always willing to explore that kind of approach – again, within reason,” Magnus expressed. “First of all, the person has to be good on air. Just because they were an iconic athlete doesn’t mean they’re going to be a successful broadcaster…. We don’t rule anybody in and we don’t rule anybody out. I think you’ll see us dabble in that environment if it’s a good fit, if it’s going to help us grow and if the results are good.”

Ultimately, decisions surrounding the layoffs were based on the fiscal standing of the company and ensuring that it can best allocate its funds. While the network is excited to introduce its new lead NBA broadcast crew of Mike Breen, Doris Burke and Doc Rivers, the move was predicated by the end of Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson serving as analysts for these marquee games. The vicissitude was not performance-based, according to Magnus, instead occurring after an analysis of the scope of NBA coverage and how it could be most prudently optimized. 

“Even though it’s difficult, we take great pains in, first of all, evaluating people on an individual basis and then communicating to people on an individual basis,” Magnus said, who has been through several rounds of layoffs over the years at ESPN. “I don’t know [that] there’s any other way to do it that sort of demonstrates in a better way how much we care and how difficult it is.”

The timing of the move comes just two seasons before the NBA’s media rights expire, and the Association is said to be looking for a confluence of linear and digital partners in the next deal. ESPN considers the NBA an important property to retain and has been actively planning for these significant negotiations. The burgeoning popularity of the sport both domestically and abroad with a young demographic is enviable for advertisers and an enterprise with whom Magnus hopes to stay in business.

“I think the NBA league office is really forward-thinking and innovative, and it kind of fits perfectly with our worldview,” he said. “I would say it’s really important for us – we’re very focused on it – but at the same time, we have to balance that excitement and enthusiasm with some financial discipline ultimately if needed.”

Betting on the Brand

While it remains unknown how it plays into its total profitability, the company is set to receive an infusion of cash flow with the upcoming launch of ESPN BET. Disney had been averse to operating in the gambling space, but the sentiment had changed in recent years and led the company to engage in exhaustive efforts to find the right partner. In the end, PENN Entertainment impressed the network and inked a 10-year, $2 billion deal to unveil an ESPN-branded sportsbook set to launch in November.

“We’ve done exhaustive due diligence on this decision over many, many years,” Magnus said. “We talked to, at one point or another, every player in that segment [and have] been comfortable given the right set of circumstances for a long time now in terms of getting into it.”

The adjusted EBITDA potential of the deal with a retail cross-sell upside and garnering performance markers, incentivized through stock warrants, lands at nearly $1.5 billion. Although the network would prefer to have it launched in time for football season, there are no worries.

“We definitely do not feel like we’re late to the game here given the power of our brand and given the numbers and the performance of our audience over time, particularly in the digital space,” Magnus said. “For us, it was really about trying to get the best possible circumstance we could get before we jumped in, and we think we have it here.”

The ESPN BET effort aligns with the introduction of a new daytime programming lineup featuring a deep roster of talented hosts, analysts and producers bringing sports fans coverage in many different ways. Mornings begin with Mike Greenberg’s program, Get Up, and are followed by Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim on First Take. Whether it is Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Mina Kimes or the newly acquired Shannon Sharpe, the show drives the sports conversation and creates a litany of memorable moments.

The central question surrounds the addition of The Pat McAfee Show, starting on Sept. 7 across ESPN platforms. McAfee is bringing his show to the network on linear and digital outlets while also continuing to appear on College GameDay and alternate broadcasts. McAfee’s contract was finalized in the midst of network-wide layoffs mandated by The Walt Disney Company, creating a situation of negative optics.

ESPN is geared towards serving the sports fan anytime and anywhere, and the company believes moving McAfee into the early afternoon slot is the best path forward. In fact, it reportedly may consider adding his show on terrestrial radio down the road, as it recently revealed a new lineup following significant audio staff cuts.

“Conversations progressed and matured over some time, and he made it known that he was willing to take [the show] inside of a media company,” Magnus said. “We pursued [it] with great enthusiasm because we think Pat and his team have built an incredible show and have really tapped into particularly a younger, but not exclusively younger, audience of today’s sports fans in a very interesting and unique way.”

Aside from refraining from using profanity, McAfee’s show will go unchanged on ESPN, including the guests, cast and ‘ThunderDome’ studio. After all, the network is licensing his show for 235 episodes a year, something Magnus argues is “quite an efficient use of money and resources.”

“Pat’s a very smart, very savvy content creator and we’re not going to meddle,” he added. “….Jimmy [Pitaro] feels the same way that I do, and part of setting off on the right foot, in my opinion, is the fact that he feels comfortable with us because we want him to be himself.”

This is SportsCenter

SportsCenter is still the marquee program and the No. 1 sub-brand within ESPN. While there has been speculation over the years about the future of the show, which has become more focused on accentuating personalities and blending information with entertainment, the ratings continue to proliferate and it still interests consumers. Magnus insisted that the entity is “not going anywhere,” remaining part of the network’s offerings for the foreseeable future.

“If it continued to try and be just a highlight show despite how powerful that was back in the day, it would have been more confined to the linear environment; it probably would have had its brand erode over time,” Magnus said. “It’s done, in my opinion, the exact opposite [by] diversifying and innovating, and I will be focused on making that continue.”

The network’s signature program brings viewers highlights across the world of sports, including the properties within its rights portfolio. ESPN will be the exclusive home of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Final for the second time this upcoming season, something Magnus wishes they had every year but is still content with the deal nonetheless. Moreover, the network’s relationship with Major League Baseball remains strong 33 years later, with games more conducive for broadcast thanks to hastened pace of play. There is, however, one property or potential thereof that confounds the industry as to how it could play out down the road – Magnus and ESPN included.

The merger between World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is scheduled to close next month, creating intrigue around how it will affect media rights negotiations. WWE’s deals with Comcast and FOX Sports expire next year and UFC’s pact with ESPN expires in 2025. The new publicly traded company, which will be known as TKO Group Holdings, will help shape the future of the sports entertainment promotion.

“I don’t think we know yet exactly how it will manifest itself in those conversations,” Magnus said of the merger. “It might be the next cycle for the WWE and not the current one, but certainly we’ve had a really positive experience with the UFC…. I don’t think we would ever rule out anything that is as significant as the WWE with sports fans.”

As another year swiftly moves towards the finish line, Magnus is confident that ESPN is and will continue to be well positioned for its future. Geared towards growing and maintaining the network while technology firms mull over exercising their financial might, he is one of the company’s veterans navigating through an incessant media environment. Myriad possibilities exist to expand reach, earn revenue and ensure relevancy – all while remaining committed to its notorious mission statement.

“I think without hesitation, we’re in a great position,” Magnus expressed. “As Jimmy [Pitaro] likes to say, ‘We like our hand here’ in terms of navigating through a changing industry. We’re very optimistic.”

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NBA Basketball Media Continues to Pile On The Boston Celtics

These Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

John Molori

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Logo for the Boston Celtics and screengrabs from ESPN
Screengrabs from ESPN's First Take and Get Up

They are the most unfairly criticized team in the NBA, a team that cruised to 64 victories and earned the number one seed in a very tough Eastern Conference. They have taken two NBA playoff series in five games respectively and lead the Eastern Conference Finals 2-0 versus Indiana.

I speak of the Boston Celtics, and despite these sterling facts, their two superstars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and the team as a whole, continue to garner criticism from the roundball media.

These “experts” say that the Celtics cannot be trusted and that they have not played to their potential. The Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference Finals six times since 2017 and made it to the NBA Finals in 2022, losing to the Golden State Warriors, but to listen to the basketball cognoscenti, you would think they are a bunch of green-clad slugs.

I get it, the Tatum-Brown Celtics have yet to win an NBA Championship, and I agree that if they don’t win it all this year, it will be a failed season for sure. After Boston defeated Cleveland in the Eastern semifinals, TNT analyst Draymond Green stated that no one cares that the Celtics once again made it to the conference finals. He is 100% correct, but that does not mean that the Celtics are utter garbage.

It’s really hard to win an NBA playoff series in five games. The Celtics have already done that twice in these playoffs, but instead of giving the Celtics credit for taking care of business, many commentators have denigrated them for how they are winning and the teams they have faced or did not have to face.

Joel Embiid was hurt. Giannis Antetokounmpo was hurt. The Knicks were banged up and the Cavs lost Donovan Mitchell. Well, too bad. Injuries are a part of the game. Are we forgetting the Celtics have been crushing playoff series without Kristaps Porzingis? When the Celtics get attention from the national media spotlight, it is usually with an air of disappointment and disgust. I’m wondering why.

ESPN and FS1 give endless attention, hope, positivity, and forward-thinking to the Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, the Lakers are a mediocre to decent basketball team at best. They were dumped in the first round of the playoffs and if not for their history, LeBron James, and the city in which they play, they wouldn’t even be in the discussion. They are the New Orleans Pelicans with Snoop Dogg at courtside.

Still, the Lakers remain in the A block on many network hoops shows. Do you want to talk about a lack of trust, disappointment, and not reaching potential? How about the defending champion Denver Nuggets?

Yes, they have a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic, but what about his team this year? They fell to a bunch of playoff neophytes called the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing Game 7 at home. Meanwhile, the Celtics took out an always tough Miami Heat team and a highly competitive Cavaliers team, 5 games each. All these Celtics do is win. Does it matter if the wins are pretty? Since when is that the media litmus test?

In a recap of Game 1 of the Eastern finals, a thrilling 133-128 overtime win for Boston, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps said that the Celtics almost “coughed up” another game at home. He went on to say that all the Pacers had to do was inbound the ball and hit a free-throw, and they would have won. Fine Tim, but guess what? They didn’t get it done and the Celtics did. Mistakes and capitalizing on mistakes are a big part of basketball.

Bontemps went on to say that if the Celtics don’t win Game 2 vs. Indiana, the Game 1 win will not matter. This is quite possibly the most foolhardy statement uttered in this year’s NBA playoffs. When four games win a series, every win matters. I understand that the Celtics lost Game 2 at home in their first two series, but so what? They righted the ship and swept both series the rest of the way.

During Game 1 against the Pacers, the Celtics jumped out to an early double-digit lead, but Indy came back to tie the game as good NBA playoff teams are known to do. ESPN’s Lisa Salters asked Boston guard Jrue Holiday how the Celtics lost the early lead. Holiday calmly replied that the Pacers are an NBA team as well. Exactly.

At the end of Game 1, after Boston stormed back in regulation and dominated the OT, ESPN play by play announcer Mike Breen said that the Celtics “survived” Game 1. It was an interesting choice of words that underlined the unfair criticism of Boston.

Coming back in a game, hitting big shots, and winning when it matters is not surviving. It is stepping up, closing the door, and being clutch. Breen is probably unfamiliar with these words because he’s been hanging around the Knicks too long.

On the May 21 edition of ESPN’s First Take, the talented and eloquent Andraya Carter questioned whether the Celtics can be trusted pinpointing Jayson Tatum in the conversation. Austin Rivers vehemently disagreed and the two engaged in a lively debate. The morning after the Celtics won Game 1 vs. the Pacers, ESPN’s Get Up crew still dogged them.

The eminent host Mike Greenberg asked the panel how Jaylen Brown could get open for the “easiest” three-point shot of the game to tie the game with just seconds left in regulation.

If you watch video of the shot, however, it was hardly easy. Brown was in the far corner with the 6-10 Pascal Siakam in his face and the Indiana bench just a couple of feet away most likely yelling Dicemanesque obscenities his way. These are the types of unmerited insults tossed at the Celtics. Brown hits an amazing shot with everything on the line and it is somehow considered the easiest shot of the game. Really?

Much of the rancor toward the Celtics is based on their stacked roster and the perceived lack of talent in their opponents, but let me get all historical on you for a minute. The nearly unanimously coronated greatest player in the history of the game, Michael Jordan, did not play all-time great teams in winning his six NBA Championship series.

In 1991, it was an old Lakers team. In 1992, it was the utterly forgettable Portland Trailblazers. In 1993, it was an aging Phoenix Suns team with Charles Barkley trying to get a

ring. In 1996, it was a good, but not great Seattle Sonics club, and in 1997 and 1998, it was the Utah Jazz. I’ll give the Jazz Karl Malone and John Stockton, but the rest of the team did double duty in a men’s weeknight league at the Northern Utah YMCA.

In fact, a team’s competition is trivial. If you win, you win. It doesn’t matter who is on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

Even the legendary Michael Wilbon piled on saying that if the Knicks were completely healthy, he would have picked them to beat the Celtics. All due respect to Mr. Wilbon, but a fully healthy Knicks team still may not have beaten the Pacers, sharpshooting like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

On Get Up this past week, ESPN’s Alan Hahn said that Jayson Tatum is not in the same league as LeBron James. No kidding, Alan. LeBron James is the leading scorer in NBA history, a man who has defined the sport for two decades. Hahn doubled down however, stating that Tatum is not in the same league as Luka Doncic.

Doncic is an immensely skillful player, but that’s about it. His Mavericks are in the conference finals for only the second time in his career. He has taken his team absolutely nowhere. Doncic is the is the Josh Allen of the NBA. Super stats, but not a sniff of a conference championship to his credit. His name is Luca, and he lives on the second bill to Tatum.

On the May 22 edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith noted that Jayson Tatum scored 12 points in the Game 1 overtime period, but also added that Tatum shot 2-10 in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.

Fair enough, but he then stated, “You’re looking for him, and he was nowhere to be found when it really counted.” Huh? So, it didn’t really count in overtime? Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and the Pacers was a tremendous NBA playoff game, one that should go down in history as a classic.

Instead, it became a springboard for continued unfounded Celtics trashing. Not every competitive NBA game is perfect. Teams make mistakes and miss shots. That’s basketball.

Game 2 saw the Celtics drub the Pacers 126-110 making them 10-2 in the playoffs with multiple trustworthy players delivering in the clutch. This series might end in 4 or 5 games, or could go 7, but to once again paraphrase Draymond Green, nobody cares as long as you win. Despite the baseless media negativity, that is exactly what the Celtics have been doing.

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Ken LaVicka Looks Ahead Following ESPN West Palm Exit

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw.”

Derek Futterman

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Ken LaVicka
Courtesy: ESPN West Palm

Although April Fool’s Day had recently taken place, the message Ken LaVicka was delivering on the air early in the month was hardly a joking matter. In an announcement that came as a shock to listeners and LaVicka himself, he revealed that he was leaving ESPN West Palm after 17 years with the outlet. For the last three years, he was the co-host of the popular LaVicka, Theo and Stone midday program, which provided local listeners with discussion and revelry surrounding sports in South Florida and in the United States as a whole.

While it was insinuated to LaVicka that there were financial reasons for the exit, the entire move left him uneasy and uncomfortable, suddenly finding himself out of regular hosting work and looking for a new job. After all, he had been appearing on the air for the Good Karma Brands-owned radio station since 2007, one year after he completed college at Valparaiso University. Over the years at the outlet, he augmented his standing through shifts as an update anchor and fill-in host to eventually being granted his own full-time hosting slot.

The audience within the West Palm Beach and Treasure Coast marketplace had become accustomed to his voice and opinions for more than a decade, making the move difficult for both parties involved. In fact, as LaVicka was divulging the news in the last 20 minutes of what was his final show on the station, he articulated that it was not only he and his partners losing the midday show, but those listeners that encompass the audience as well.

“It was ultimately a corporate decision,” LaVicka said. “It was definitely not mutual. I would prefer to still be at ESPN West Palm. I am unhappy that I’m not at ESPN West Palm, but hey, we’ve been in the business a long time. I’ve seen a lot of friends end up losing jobs over decisions that come from a much higher paygrade, and so I think that ultimately that’s what happened to me.”

When reflecting back on the circumstances that led to his departure from the station, LaVicka believes that he was seen as expendable. Outside of his hosting work, LaVicka is a play-by-play announcer for Florida Atlantic University and calls NWSL soccer matches on various digital platforms. Although LaVicka is appreciative of the company’s belief for him to find his footing again, he is crestfallen to be off the air but conducted himself with professionalism throughout his egress.

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw,” LaVicka said. “Was I disappointed? Absolutely. Was I bitter? For sure, and I still feel bitterness towards the situation that unfolded. But I also think that the positives of the opportunities afforded to me by Good Karma Brands for almost 20 years, and also at the end them trying to, while making a tough decision that was going to have an adverse effect on me, try and do it in the most professional and classy way possible that you could in that spot, it kind of allowed me this freedom.”

There exists a dichotomy between LaVicka’s time at ESPN West Palm ending and that of the midday program itself. Upon discovering that he would not be retained, he made this distinction and felt despondency towards having to leave his co-hosts Theo Dorsey and Stone Labanowitz. The broad age cohort on the program and varying perspectives on sports was an aspect that LaVicka believes engendered a unique offering on the air. LaVica has been at the station the longest among the trio, and his partners understood the importance of having the ability to say goodbye to the listeners through the platform.

LaVicka remembers starting at the outlet and describes the first office he worked out of as an “absolute closet,” but it proved to be a place where the business continued to flourish. Originally being from Chicago, Ill., he adjusted to living in southern Florida while also having an ability to focus on growing his career.

The perception that he had of sports talk radio when he was studying in college and participating in the student-run radio station differed from what he ultimately experienced working at ESPN West Palm. It was preceded by a year working at then-FOX Sports 100.5 FM in Madison, Wisc., also owned by Good Karma Brands. LaVicka accepted the role three days before he was supposed to move to Dickinson, N.D. to work as a sportswriter for The Dickinson Press, deciding to pursue his passion in radio.

Nearly two decades later, he evinces an ongoing, axiomatic shift pertaining to multimedia consumption and content creation. LaVicka believes it has become more difficult for terrestrial radio outlets to find businesses who want to associate with their work and delivery methods, although it is dependent on the marketplace. The apprehension he possesses in this regard, however, is in whether talented young people will be able to secure and subsequently capitalize off opportunities.

“Local radio will not die,” LaVicka prognosticated. “It’s still too much of a bonding entity for it to go away completely, but the expectations of how much money a local station can bring in just using traditional means as its way of bringing in income – there’s going to have to be some forward thinkers in that local radio space because you can’t just go, ‘The person goes on air – sell sponsorships’ It doesn’t work like that anymore.”

LaVicka himself is currently looking for a new role in the industry and is not opposed to moving out of south Florida if the opportunity is right for him and his family. Since losing his job at ESPN West Palm, he has endured many sleepless nights and pondered over the amount of fortitude and patience he has within the process.

Even though he is not ruling out an eventual return to ESPN West Palm, he views the outcome as unlikely. The value working there, however, comes in being able to relate and appeal to a diverse, transient audience residing within the locale. Good Karma Brands is assisting him with the process by promoting his work and providing him with financial assistance as he prepares for his next career move.

“I don’t want to come off as cocky, but I’m very confident in myself that given an opportunity; given a role – a sizable role that is something that’s going to be consumed by a lot of people – I get that opportunity, I’m going to excel in it,” LaVicka said. “There hasn’t been any point in my career on air where I haven’t been given an opportunity and then it didn’t completely expand past I think what the initial expectation was, and this includes my time at Florida Atlantic.”

While LaVicka is open to opportunities in terrestrial radio, he is also exploring working in the digital realm and recently started a YouTube show with WQAM digital content producer Zach Krantz titled By All Accounts. LaVicka first met Krantz at Miami Dolphins practices and training camps when he was working on The Joe Rose Show, and they shared several laughs and memorable moments.

When LaVicka and his wife welcomed their second child into the world, it required a stint in the neonatal intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. Their newborn daughter ended up spending 72 hours there where her health improved. Krantz discovered the circumstance shortly after it began and reached out to LaVicka to offer his support, understanding the stress with the situation after his son was in the NICU for several months.

“[He] made sure to come find me at the hospital and put me at ease [and] talked me through the process,” LaVicka said, “and that was massively important to me, had a major effect on me and also gave me an idea of the type of person Zach Krantz is.”

Krantz came up with the idea to start a program with LaVicka, reaching out to him shortly after his exit from ESPN West Palm. Within his proposition, he explained that they already possessed strong chemistry and rapport and would work together to begin a show from phase one. Despite the program still being in its early stages, LaVicka can sense palpable growth potential that could perhaps turn into its own sustainable entity if it continues to grow. The venture is not evanescent, but rather something he is committed to growing in the long run as he discovers the media landscape and searches for the most optimal long-term solution.

“I want this thing to be broad,” LaVicka said. “I want it to be fun, but I think that I also want to make sure that it at least plays to our strengths, which is being petty sports fans; which is showing favor to South Florida sports, making sure that we’re being extremely relatable in the grand scheme of things.”

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How Advertisers Can Protect Their Digital Ad Spend

Invalid website traffic from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic for digital advertising

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) partnering with digital marketing companies for their ad spend can enjoy significant advantages. Digital companies, such as many radio stations’ digital departments, often have more expertise than SMBs in spending money wisely to generate website traffic and, crucially, in avoiding the waste of ad dollars on fake traffic. Fake website traffic has increased by 33% in just two years. Invalid website traffic (IVT) from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year. Here are some questions advertisers can ask their digital partner to help eliminate fake ad engagement:

Make Data and Machines Work

Ask your digital partner if they use advanced data analytics and machine learning to optimize your ad spend. By employing predictive analytics—predicting future outcomes—savvy digital marketers can identify audiences most likely to engage genuinely with your ads. Inquire if they use Google Analytics and how it can help flag potential fraud and protect your investment.

Blockchain Technology for Ad Verification

To ensure transparency and security in your ad campaigns, some digital marketers leverage blockchain technology. This technology records every click and impression, guaranteeing that each interaction is genuine and that payments are made only for verified interactions. Blockchain makes it more difficult to change, hack, or manipulate data.

Advanced Attribution Models

Check if your partner uses multi-touch attribution models, which consider all touchpoints in the customer’s journey to your website. This approach provides a comprehensive view of how each ad contributes to conversions. Algorithmic attribution models apply sophisticated algorithms to improve ROI measurement.

Partnerships with Anti-Fraud Organizations

Ask if they collaborate with anti-fraud organizations to reduce fraud in digital advertising. Some digital companies ensure that campaigns and partners are certified by organizations like TAG, guaranteeing that ad placements are genuine and not plagued with fake engagements.

Private Marketplaces

Ensure that ad placements are with trusted publishers, reducing the risk of fraud. Some digital companies use private marketplaces, where a limited number of advertisers can buy and access premium inventory that is less susceptible to fraud, ensuring higher-quality ad placements for your business.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) and Enhanced Filters

Your digital partner should set criteria for real-time bidding to ensure only high-quality, vetted traffic is considered. Real-Time Bidding is an auction setting where ad impressions are sold and bought. And transactions occur within seconds. Once an advertiser’s bid wins the auction, their digital ad is instantaneously shown on the website or property of the publisher.

Dynamic bidding strategies can adjust in real time based on the quality and performance of the inventory, maximizing the efficiency of your ad spend. Attempting this on your own can be challenging and less effective.

Focus on User Engagement Metrics

Ensure that deeper engagement metrics are employed, such as time spent on a page, scroll depth, and interaction rates, to provide a clearer picture of ad effectiveness. Analyzing post-click behavior helps determine the quality of engagements, ensuring that clicks result in meaningful interactions.

By partnering with well-established digital marketing companies, SMBs can access advanced technologies and strategies to ensure that digital marketing efforts are practical and efficient. Make sure your website conversions are as high as possible. YouTube and Google Search are leading the way in combating bot traffic, while LinkedIn, Google Video Partners, and X are less effective at blocking “bad bots.” Finding a reliable digital partner is crucial to protecting your ad spend and maximizing your returns. Beware of the bad bot and ensure your advertising efforts drive genuine value.

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