Connect with us
Jim Cutler Demos

BSM Writers

James Brown is Using His Platform for Good

“I would make certain that I, if there’s such a thing, over-prepared so as to capitalize on that opportunity, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Derek Futterman



James Brown
Courtesy: Mary Kouw, CBS

Following the conclusion of a sporting event, some fans usually choose to congregate outside of the venue with the hopes of snagging a picture or an autograph from their favorite players. One day after a Washington Bullets basketball game, there were many children aiming to greet their heroes. As one of the players emerged from the arena, he noticed a child extending a pen and paper in his direction, hoping for the stationery to be adorned with his coveted signature. Instead, the player knocked both items out of the child’s hand and kept walking to the team bus, an impudent act commentator James Brown watched as it unfolded from afar.

Visibly shaken and despondent, the young fan was suddenly greeted by Hall of Fame forward Wes Unseld, a traditionally affable and benevolent individual. Unseld, who had seen what occurred, sat the child on his knee and provided his autograph and gear while restoring the child’s confidence and morale. As he performed this act of magnanimity, he informed team officials that the team bus, which was sitting idle and preparing to depart, would need to remain as such and wait for as long as it took.

Being in the vicinity of this illustration of proper decorum prompted Brown to make a conscious reaffirmation related to his own self-efficacy and inherent values.

“I said, ‘If I ever am in a position to be an influence on somebody, I would want to be a positive influence like that,’” Brown said. “Again, to be real clear, as a man of faith, I try to do that as well too from a standpoint of unifying and finding the good in people to talk about those things.”

From the beginning of his career, Brown has tried to serve as an exemplary role model for industry professionals and sports fans. He has proven to be an adept commentator both in sports and news media, holding true to journalistic tenets amid a cyclonic content ecosystem, while also giving back to the community. For his work in both respects, Brown will be honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters, the organization’s highest honor, at Wednesday night’s NAB Marconi Radio Awards.

When Brown was informed that he would be this year’s honoree, he was incredulous and wanted to double-check that the message was not transmitted to him in error. Upon confirmation, he thought back on his journey to reach this point, a winding road of twists and turns that required adaptability, and how a common thread through it all was utilizing his platform for good.

During his formative years in the business, Brown decided to ask a colleague if he would be able to blend philanthropic elements within his platform if he became successful enough. In response, he was informed that he would likely not experience such fortune in his career, an assertion with potential to disquiet and fluster prospective rising stars. Instead of succumbing to the pessimistic melancholy foreboding suppositious failure, Brown adopted the opposite mindset and stayed true to the fundamentals of the craft.

“I felt in my heart it could be the case,” Brown said. “This is validation that it was because I would not have ever thought I would ever have been considered for something like this when I look at the people who have received this award.”

Throughout his career, which has spanned parts of five decades, Brown always possessed a keen interest in penetrating beyond the nuances of the game itself. Yet he never thought he would be on the sidelines covering the action, instead pursuing a career as a professional basketball player. Under the mentorship of Hall-of-Fame high school basketball coach Morgan Wootten, Brown became a two-time high school All-American and received 200 athletic scholarships from universities around the country.

Nonetheless, he chose to attend Harvard University to study government while continuing his career on the hardwood sans bursary. He assumed that the institutional erudition would better position him for long-term success and felt that when it was amalgamated with accolades as a basketball player, he could thrive as an entrepreneur.

Brown was drafted both in the NBA by the Atlanta Hawks but did not end up making the team. As a result, he began working as a sales manager at Xerox and had no thoughts about pursuing media until he was invited to a television show.

While there, Brown informed of a forthcoming opening as a color commentator on Washington Bullets games. After auditioning, he was granted the job for away contests, filling the role of Mike Riordan, and continued his work with Xerox in the process.

Most professionals in sports media are subject to criticism from viewers, colleagues, and competitors alike. With advances in mediated communication, filtering these critiques and cultivating a network of trusted sources can prove fundamental for maintaining stability and confidence. Brown, however, did not run away from these critiques; rather, he utilized them to improve as he continued broadcasting games and occasionally filled in on play-by-play announcing duties. After his first year with the Bullets, he had lunch with William Taaffe, a columnist for The Washington Star, and asked for uncensored, genuine feedback about his commentary.

“He said, ‘JB, you clearly know the game. You just need to eliminate the five-dollar words in your Harvard education and talk to everyday people in simple terms and explain what it is and have fun,’ and he was right,” Brown said. “It harkened back to a lesson my English teacher told me in high school which was essentially, ‘Keep it simple. Explain it in language that everybody could understand.’”

When CBS Sports snatched part of the television rights to the NCAA in a four-year deal with ABC, then-owned by American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, worth a collective $264 million, the network was looking for extra announcers. The company reached out to Brown after executives heard him commentate a game and informed him that he would need to expand his skillset if he wanted to work in media on a full-time basis.

While he was a skilled color commentator, CBS Sports executive producer Ted Shaker expressed that the superstar professional athletes would likely fill the analyst roles upon their retirement. As a result, he implored Brown to learn how to work as a play-by-play announcer, reporter, and studio host, and he subsequently gave him opportunities to hone his craft.

Brown had worked as a studio anchor for both WJLA-TV and WDVM-TV while continuing assignments with CBS Sports, including college basketball, NBA, and NFL games. As it pertained to the NFL on CBS, he called matchups with a variety of analysts starting in 1987, including Dan Jiggetts, Gary Fencik, Ken Stabler, and Randy Cross. Having emanated from the analyst role, he always worked with his partners to ensure they would be able to convey their firsthand, esoteric perspectives amid the presentation.

“[I had to] understand it well enough to be able to ask the intelligent questions to capitalize on the expertise that the analysts, being singular or plural with whom I was working, to elicit from them the best in preparing the audience for what they were about to see on TV,” Brown said, “and to watch it knowledgeably so as to, again, ask the right questions to make them shine.”

CBS ceased broadcasts of NFL games after NBC acquired the AFC rights and FOX snagged the NFC rights, transactions that totaled almost $2.5 billion. When FOX Sports acquired the property, the company was looking to establish credibility and signed CBS commentators John Madden, Pat Summerall, and Terry Bradshaw to lucrative contracts.

FOX Sports was originally going to have Bradshaw work as both an analyst and host for its studio coverage with Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson. Network chairman David Hill conceptualized the studio team discussing the game as if they were friends conversing at a sports bar. At the suggestion of division president Ed Goren, Hill hired Brown to host the show without an audition, and he stressed the importance of standing out and being distinct. The program, known as FOX NFL Sunday, would be a blend of information and entertainment, following the mantra of “sugarcoating the education pill.”

“I remember one time we started off our football show, and it was probably a little pedantic; a little bit mundane,” Brown recalled. “[Hill] came out of the control room in a huff and a puff. He stood in front of the desk of the four of us, and he looked at us and he simply said, ‘You’re boring me!,’ and he turned around and went back in the control room. We took it up another notch from that point forward in terms of the energy level and enthusiasm and the frivolity, which separated that broadcast from others, and we were back on track.”

Brown remained with FOX for 11 years, during which he expanded his responsibilities to include hosting NHL studio programming and occasionally filled in on the MLB pregame and postgame shows. In lieu of live game broadcasts, he also added hosting duties for The World’s Funniest!, a comedic reality show that showcased amusing clips for entertainment purposes. Moreover, he contributed to Real Sports on HBO, hosted news magazine program America’s Black Forum, and worked with The Sporting News to host his own radio show.

Brown had previously hosted a three-hour midday show on WTEM since the station’s inception in 1992, but the two sides parted ways as his network television responsibilities amplified. The audio platform kept him fluid in the parlance of other sports while also fostering professional relationships around the industry. Since his show was not solely football-focused, Brown was able to discuss a wide variety of sports and report on human interest stories, affording contextualization of occurrences on the field.

When CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus contacted Brown to see if he would be interested in returning to the network, he asked him to make contributions to the news side of the property as well. While he had a passion for storytelling in both formats, he asked to deliver excellence on the sports side first and would take on a role in news later if needed. As a result, he replaced Greg Gumbel on The NFL Today studio program, commuting to New York City to host the show with studio analysts including Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason. A few years later, he added Inside the NFL to his slate of responsibilities and hosted the program until its recent move to The CW Network.

“My aim was to pull out of them the best of what they brought to the table and, where possible, to inject a little levity and humor without forcing it to make it extemporaneous so that it showed that we truly were just doing things organically, not trying to force it to copycat what they were doing over at FOX,” Brown said. “If we were journalistically sound, showing that we were a group that genuinely liked each other, and, oh yes, we could still have some fun, but present all of the basic information to set the stage; set the table for the audience to watch that game through the lens of these experts, then we’ve done our job.”

In hosting the studio program, Brown carries an unselfish attitude and recognizes that the show is about the team rather than one person. Although the cast has changed since his debut with the additions of Nate Burleson, Phil Simms, and J.J. Watt, he understands how to position his colleagues to adequately extrapolate their perspectives. There are times when he will eschew the 10-second lead-up to a commercial because he can discern one of the analysts trying to chime into the conversation, focusing on the quality of the discussion more than individual promulgation.

“I will defer to them to get that point in to let them know I’m mindful of this, and we are a team-oriented group, and therefore let me allow them the opportunity to get that significant nugget in, and I may only have three to five seconds to say, ‘We’ll be back with more of the State Farm Postgame Show after this,’” Brown explained. “That is an indication to them that I recognize their value; I’m willing to sacrifice so they can give something that hopefully is going to elevate the broadcast and separate us from the competition.”

Over the course of the game itself, it is up to the studio team to react to the action in real time and adapt as necessary. Outside of a sudden injury or change in status, unexpected news items that emerge before the games largely occur beforehand. Contrarily, all developments occur during the slate of game action once the opening kickoff takes place, requiring everyone to remain nimble and malleable at all times. The studio team regularly provides updates from the other action around the league, something that is partially in the purview of Brown.

“Before I used to do the highlights fully myself because you’ve only got eight to maybe 10 seconds to do that, but a way of keeping them engaged and in tune is to do it with the analyst,” Brown said. “My job then is to put a headline on that highlight that we’re about to shoot in to the various markets – a la the RedZone – to keep everyone abreast of what’s going on…. ‘A record in the making,’ and then boom, we’ll go into a lot with that.”

Prior to CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus retiring from the business in April 2024, the network will present the television broadcast for Super Bowl LVIII, marking the 22nd time it has televised “The Big Game” in its illustrious history. Brown is expected to host pregame coverage of the championship matchup coming off record multiplatform viewership of the game.

Even though the audience will likely be large, his approach will remain consistent in conveying information to the viewer in a genuine manner, highlighting the key storylines of the game without coming off as pompous or imperious. As he goes live in front of a legion of football fans, Brown will heed advice he received from John Madden while play-by-play announcing by making sure that he is duly prepared with a bucket full of information.

“We always wanted to rely on the game itself being competitive and exciting – that’s what the people are tuning in to see; that’s what we got the most fun out of,” Brown explained, “but in a blowout scenario; if the stadium was experiencing some kind of an electrical problem [or] weather-related delays, we had to have as much information as possible to prime the audience for the telecast.”

Brown’s current contract with CBS guarantees a set number of fill-in anchor responsibilities on the CBS Evening News throughout the year, allowing him to make contributions in both genres under the CBS brand. Throughout his second stint with the company, he has also had a chance to present stories for 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, and CBS Sunday Morning among other properties in the news division.

“Whenever we have our news Zooms to go over the stories for the day, etc., they’ll usually start off and ask me, ‘How do you do such and such?,’” Brown said. “Well, I am a substitute anchor there, but my attitude is still always one of, ‘You guys have got a well-oiled ship here. All I want to do is to make sure that I am complementing all of the work that you do by doing my job excellently on the air.’”

Although Brown has not studied the intricacies of the evolving sports media landscape, he feels that some parts of the industry are a microcosm for larger societal issues related to derision. Through his charity endeavors with organizations such as GENYOUth, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Ron & Joy Paul Kidney Center at The George Washington University, Brown aims to bring people closer together and keeps the spirit of congeniality and altruism alive with every broadcast.

“I don’t care how trite it may sound but, ‘A house divided cannot stand,’” Brown said. “We ought to be looking for common ground and that which encourages each other. That is something that I absolutely speak about in the opportunities I’ve been given.”

As Brown prepares to take the stage in New York City on Wednesday night, he harkens back to advice bestowed on him from Morgan Wootten, his high school basketball coach. Before Brown was set to speak before a group of young people, he expressed a sentiment of fear and confusion about what he was going to say. In response, his coach communicated a message with the sanguinity and proficiency that guided his teams towards five national champions and 22 D.C. titles. Providing the assist to his longtime forward both in the game on the hardwood and in the game of life helped shape him into the person he is today, venerated and worthy of this acclaimed industry honor.

“He says, ‘JB, there is no such thing as new fundamentals. Fundamentals are tried and true – they’re basic. You can dress it up, but you make sure that they understand you need to master the fundamentals,’” Brown remembered being told. “Yes, bring your personality to it – don’t try to copy someone else. [It is an] old, tired expression, but it bears repeating, ‘If you try to be somebody else, you’re only going to be the second-best, but you’re going to be the first-best you.’ Be you and deliver it with excellence, remaining focused on the fundamentals.”

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

BSM Writers

Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star

Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.

John Molori



A photo of Julian Edelman
(Photo: Julian Edelman)

He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.

These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.

In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.

Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”

One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.

He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.  

Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.

In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.

Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.

Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.

When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”

He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”

In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.

Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.

A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.

Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.

Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.

If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.

Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?

Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.

There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air.  As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings

“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”

Derek Futterman



Mike Breen
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.

When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.

“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”

For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.

“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”

Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.

Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.

“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”

Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.

In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.

“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”

Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.

Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.

“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”

Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.

“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”

MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.

“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”

When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.

“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”

Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.

“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”

Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.

As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.

“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”

Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.

By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.

“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”

Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.

“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”

Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.

The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.

“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”

Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.

“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”

In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.

“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BSM Writers

How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question

We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.

Jeff Caves



A photo of a sales meeting

It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.

We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.

However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.

Focusing Solely on Product Features

We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.

We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.

Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck! 

Talking About Company Achievements

While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.

We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.

Generic Pitches

Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.

Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.

Failure to Listen Actively

Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.

Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.

Forget About “Across the Street”

Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.

For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.

Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.

What’s the ROI?

A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.

Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.

Too Much TSL or CPM talk

Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.

Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.

No Hit and Run

Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.

In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.

So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading


Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.