Fans of Bomani Jones got a nice surprise this week. The feed for his podcast, which had sat dormant for months, suddenly alerted subscribers that a new episode of The Right Time was waiting for them.
Jones exited ESPN earlier this year. His contract was not renewed as part of the cost-cutting measures across all of Disney’s divisions. His show is now part of the Wave Sports + Entertainment portfolio.
Wave Sports + Entertainment may not have the sort of ubiquitous name in sports media that ESPN does, but thanks to Paul George and the Kelce Brothers, the company has proven its worth in the podcast space. That is what Jones was looking for as he weighed his options for The Right Time‘s next chapter.
In this conversation, Jones talks about how to build a podcast that blends sports and other topics, why Wave Sports + Entertainment is the right partner at this point, and how sports talk is filling a void for middle-aged Black audiences.
Demetri Ravanos: Wave Sports + Entertainment is a very different animal for you. You are coming from ESPN, the quintessential entity in sports media. Now, you are going to a place where you are the lone media member as opposed to an athlete trying to either transition or start something new. So how do you fit in with the Wave Sports + Entertainment portfolio?
Bomani Jones: Yeah, that’s a good question that, to be honest, you ought to ask the Wave people. I hadn’t even thought it out that far. Part of that for me, and I think that this is kind of what’s different about doing a podcast versus being on TV or radio or all that stuff, is that I’ll always look at podcasts individually as just kind of like their own worlds of sorts, right? There are certainly some ways and places where I give thought to a larger brand and how I fit or something like that, but with Wave, my question primarily just was, “Okay, what can you do to help me grow this podcast that’s already successful?”
I think that maybe if I was starting from zero, we’d be talking about something else, but I’ve always thought myself – and partially as a function of the places that I’ve worked – but I’ve thought a podcast is something that the individual talent and everybody surrounding it, they’re going to be the ones that make it into whatever it is, and they’re going to have to do a lot of the building in that regard. With Wave, what’s so impressive about them is their ability to take what it is that you’re doing and then optimize it for all the means of distribution and everything else.
Now to the beginning of your question, it is a little interesting that in this brief time that I’ve been away, one of the big stories that’s popped up is this whole Travis Kelce and Tay Tay thing. I guess we’re coworkers. You know, that can’t be anything that I worry too much about because I don’t know how much they’re supposed to worry about me, but yeah, that is a little bit different, I have to say.
DR: It does seem like there is a class of podcasts or maybe it’s just a standard boilerplate go-to slogan whenever somebody is launching a sports podcast that it is going to be “a melting pot of sports and culture.” I wonder why it is that you think you are better at it than anyone else trying to start this thing. There is no shortage of them, and you have had a long history of success in this space.
BJ: I think the thing for me is, at least in terms of journalism, is I was doing the “and” before I did the sports and I was doing the “sports and…” at Page 2, which is probably the best “sports and” thing anybody has ever come up with. I’m also there at the same time as [Bill] Simmons and his brand of “sports and” I could never quite do, you know what I mean?
The thing that I feel like I’ve gotten better now at this point in my career is this “sports and,” it ain’t let’s call it Hall & Oates, right? It’s Simon & Garfunkel; it’s Gladys Knight & the Pips. Sports has got to be out front. I firmly believe that because people got to know they’re coming to get something out of this. I think for a lot of people, the attempt at sports and pop culture ultimately becomes more about self-gratification than really getting to the audience.
The other thing that I think gets tricky when you do “sports and” stuff is you’ve got to get people who want to hear your sports and people who want to hear your end game. They’re probably not going to show up just to get “the and” if they don’t like the sports. They’re probably not going to show up to get the sports if they don’t like the “and,” because they’ll go get somebody that does the sports that they like. It doesn’t matter what the other stuff is. What matters is if they like it. You have to learn to be judicious about these things and understand what exactly it is that people come to you and people come to your podcast for.
What I have been able to do over the last, and this sounds crazy, 23 years of working this job is that the people who are coming for an opt-in product from me, by and large, are people who know me and thereby are people who trust me. They are willing to hear some of these things that I want to talk about. It takes time to earn the trust in all those places, and so this very long answer to get back to the top of it. I think the thing that helps me is with the pop culture stuff – I developed an independent reputation for being somebody who talked about pop culture; I developed an independent reputation for being somebody who talked about current events, and I had an independent reputation for talking about sports. I dabble, I guess, in some ways in the first two now and I am in the third more, but the truth is, I’ve done all of those in such a fashion that when I’m now dabbling in them, I’m dabbling into expertise as opposed to simply dabbling into interest.
DR: You and I had a conversation a while back. I had just gotten back from doing some radio fill-in stuff in South Carolina and I said to you that I was kind of shocked by the amount of Black voices on the phones when I took calls. It was overwhelmingly more than any time before. You had a really interesting theory about it being the lack of a classic rock format for guys in their 40s and 50s at this point who grew up listening to rap. I wonder if you think that is just benefiting sports radio or maybe that is benefiting podcasts too with Black audiences.
BJ: I think it’s benefiting podcasts and I think the numbers bear out. It’s really benefiting YouTube, which is a place where Black people over-represent in that sample. But this is kind of the flipside of all the rap from our youth that we were defending. It’s not that easy to listen to it in the car with your kids, so you don’t really have those stations. I think Atlanta has a classic rap format. I honestly don’t know of any other city that does. So once you get to your grown man station in life as a Black man, where do you go? I know in Raleigh they were telling me that when they went from the AM to the FM dial, suddenly they heard a lot more Black people on phones.
It’s always been a thing with ESPN. ESPN programming has a much higher Black viewership than most television shows do. When you think about it, how many other places on television are you tuning in and Black people are the stars? That’s what happens with sports.
Now, what I think is interesting though, in terms of format, especially when you start talking about places in the South where you just have fewer options, that’s where you really start hearing more and more Black people get on to phones for sports talk. That’s also a function of sports talk’s growth outside of urban areas. You ain’t getting that many of those calls in the afternoon up here on WFAN right now. It’s a really weird sort of quirk. I think it may be partially cultural in the sense that I think that in the South in particular, Black culture and white culture are far closer to each other, both in proximity and just kind of what their substances are. But you turn on the radio in these cities where one of the host’s name ends in a Y? You know, “John and Sully” or something like that, You know what I mean? No, Black people ain’t calling them. We’re not having nearly as much overlap in those spaces.
Even once you’re just talking about the cultural elements of it, you start talking about coming up north and the people are more likely to be Catholic. The ancestors, I guess you got your Mayflower types certainly, but up here it’s much more a discussion of immigrant culture. When you get to the South, everybody’s going back generations and generations still in the United States. They’re all coming from the same direction.
DR: You and I talked recently and you said that what was appealing about Wave Sports + Entertainment is that this is what they do. Podcasts are not a division of a much larger company. The same could be said for Meadowlark Media, and I think there are a lot of people who would wonder, if that is what you were looking for, why you would not prioritize past relationships as you were trying to figure out what your future is after ESPN.
BJ: Yeah, I think the question that I would ask people in response to that is, “So what exactly does that do for me?” I don’t mean that snidely or rudely, but I think that people with the assumption that I would wind up going to work for Meadowlark are operating under the premise of what my relationship has been with Dan Le Batard. What about me implies to you that I make business decisions based on something that personal? You just can’t, that’s not how things work. You can’t do that.
So in 2022, when my contract was expiring with ESPN, I talked to Meadowlark. I’ll let you know, we were pretty deep in talks with them, but in the end, I wound up in a situation where I was doing Game Theory for HBO, and Game Theory was the single most important thing to me. Every other decision that I was going to make, both personally and professionally, is going to be made with Game Theory in mind. I thought that it would be best for me to not be doing a start-up television show and also trying to restart a podcast with a new staff and producer at a company that itself was a start-up. I just thought that that was too much.
It didn’t even really come up this last time that my deal was up and I was trying to find a place to be. The way that Dan sells things, you know, “It’s work, it’s family.” It ain’t really how life works. But, you know, that’s him and the way that he does things. I think that people who really love Dan and who enjoy the things that I did with him, they would love to see me go work there and be part of this thing that they already love. I could totally see how that would be the best thing for them. I just don’t know how those people would necessarily explain how it would be the best thing for me.
DR: Is there a part of you that worries if you go back to do anything with that collection of people, there’s always going to be a segment of the audience that is going to see you and Dan together and think of you as the sidekick?
BJ: Yeah, the sidekick thing with Dan is very interesting because on Highly Questionable, if you go and watch it, there’s very clearly a sidekick and it’s his father, right? But it was this weird thing because his father is at once the sidekick and also the centerpiece. It was a really good thing because ego stuff typically comes up when people do television shows together and who plays what role. But it’s really helpful to have this cuddly old man in between and everybody can be like, “No, he’s the real star of the show.” Then none of that other stuff ever comes up. But that show, it wasn’t mine. That’s something that I know when I worked with Dan that he struggled to understand. I didn’t mean this in a bad way, but “It’s your dad. It’s your city.” Like when I would come in to do radio in the same studio where he did his radio show, and it’s just covered wall to wall with Dan Le Batard Show stuff, it’s his and that’s cool.
I never saw myself as a sidekick, however there was a hierarchy. He is Dan Le Batard. They built the studio because he’s Dan Le Batard, all of those things.
Now, if I had come in 2022 and decided to work there, what would have been more likely was that we would have used this show The Right Time as kind of its own tentpole and hopefully, the plan would then be to build out a network of sorts underneath The Right Time. In the Le Batard AF, I am neither A nor F in the way that I wanted to go about that. I admit that was very important to me for the reason that you describe.
I’m kind of past the point in my career where I want to position myself in a way that looks like sidekick stuff. So I think that part is totally fair, but at the same time, I really don’t know the numbers that closely on his end, but I’m assuming that his operation is a bigger one than mine is. So, his show being a bigger one and me being there with my own thing that isn’t as big? That’s okay. I can live with that. I was at ESPN and my show wasn’t as big as Zach Lowe’s. That’s fine, not a problem. That’s kind of survival of the fittest.
I don’t think with the way that Meadowlark does things now, that there would be a place for me. Everything now seems to be treated as an offshoot of The Dan Le Batard Show now. That, I absolutely would not go for, but let me be clear. That also was not offered to me. So I’m not pretending like I turned it down.
DR: You said one thing in there that I want to wrap on. You mentioned that at the time you did not think going to an upstart network while having Game Theory would have been the best thing for you. Obviously, you wish Game Theory was still on, but the fact that it is not on the air anymore, did that allow you to take more chances as you tried to figure out what you were going to do next?
BJ: I would say the opposite. Me taking chances on where to go with the podcast is much more of a function of my previous employers not renewing my contract there. Once your old job says you don’t work there no more, the risk is there.
But also I don’t see Wave at all as being risky. I would even make the argument that for a podcast, working at ESPN would be far riskier. It would be much riskier for Paul George to take his podcast to ESPN than it would be for me to take what I’m doing and bring it to Wave. This isn’t just about ESPN. This is about most of these large companies. I’ll give you an example. After I get off the phone with you, we’re going to do a rehearsal show. I’m going back and forth with Sean Yoo, who’s my new producer, and we’re talking about some stuff and he’s like, “Hey, we got a tweet that we’re putting out. The social team wants you to quote tweet that. And if you check that e-mail I sent you, we’ve got the schedule.”
I checked it and it’s a spreadsheet in a Google Doc of what the schedule is and the planning for what to do with the social channels as we break this show out and introduce it to some new people because we’re slapping a new coat of paint on it and all of that stuff, right? That doesn’t happen in the same ways, at least in my experience, at the big companies. For the big companies, it’s like, “Hey, man, they got this thing called podcasting that the kids are doing. We should probably get into that. So we need to send some things out on social” then you bring that person who just doesn’t have anything to do and then it goes from there. I’m working now with people who are much more native to the space, who have a much more organic knowledge of these things, and can strategize much more.
What I’ve always felt like, no matter where I’ve been, no matter where I’ve done, it’s my job to come up with something good. It’s your job to get people to consume it. If I come up with something and you put it in front of people and they reject it, then that’s my fault. Okay? But with a podcast, I know I’m going to give you a good podcast. I know that 100%. And from what I’ve seen from Wave and people they have worked with previously, I know they’re going to be able to take the social channels and take all these other things and get this out here to more people probably than I was capable of getting out to when I worked at ESPN.
So no, this to me is the opposite of a risk. This is taking a product that has been built over the course of five years, bringing the subscriber base that we have that we’ve built in and now supercharging it. I think that the more likely outcome here is that this now goes farther than it ever has and it goes to places that I probably didn’t think were possible at some point.
I’m taking the podcast and it’s going to a place and the place is then going to do whatever that place does with the podcast. But in terms of leaving ESPN, if you wanted to make the argument that I took a step down of sorts when they decided to cancel High Noon, that’s perfectly fair. It’s not even hard to get around that. But for the podcast. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. All that matters about the podcast is whether or not the people you work for are the best equipped to get it out to as many ears as possible to allow them to make a decision as to whether or not this is something they want to be part of their regular lives. And I think in that direction, I probably took a step up.
To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
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.
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.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
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.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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.
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.
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.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.