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Is Pat McAfee on Borrowed Time at ESPN?

“ I appreciate Pat’s candor and willingness to call someone out if he feels they’ve done him wrong, but if there are issues taking place between a top talent and executive, men have to be men and clear the air in private.

Jason Barrett

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I initially planned to write about sports radio ratings given that we’ve just released a ton of markets and have a bunch more still to roll out. Then Pat McAfee poured gasoline on a tenured ESPN executive, lit a match, and set him on fire for all to witness. The flames have since spread across ESPN, Disney, Bristol, CT, the South Street Seaport, and all of social media. Once that occurred, I knew I had to change direction.

Last week should have been PR nirvana for ESPN. The network announced growth for GetUp!, First Take, SportsCenter, the NBA Today and its first day of programming in 2024. They also revealed a massive eight-year media rights deal with the NCAA and MegaCast plans for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Most weeks that would have everyone up top and down low walking with an extra pep in their step.

But not this week.

During a conversation with Aaron Rodgers, the Jets Quarterback made a remark that Jimmy Kimmel had every right to be pissed at. Rodgers insinuated that Kimmel would be named as one of Jeffrey Epstein’s associates resulting in the late night host threatening legal action. To connect a popular late night host working under the Disney umbrella to Jeffrey Epstein is irresponsible especially if you don’t have it confirmed. As a result, McAfee had to clean up the mess since it occurred on his show. Then, to make matters worse, Andrew Marchand dropped a column, which raised questions of whether or not McAfee was producing enough impact to warrant the unwanted PR. That set the stage for the next inferno.

On Friday, McAfee didn’t mince words. He called out ESPN Executive Norby Williamson publicly, stating that the tenured boss had been trying to sabotage his show. He suggested that Williamson had been leaking information to make him look bad. That was followed by labeling the ESPN boss an enemy within his own camp. McAfee then explained how Norby blew him off in 2018, leaving him in his office for 45 minutes, making it clear that neither has much respect for the other. He then finished up by mentioning the show’s desire to get it right, and dropped a MF when explaining how others don’t.

When I saw the video, I was both entertained and stunned. Pat’s unafraid approach plays well with talent and fans but suits don’t usually appreciate when they’re publicly embarrassed. McAfee had to know the second he made those comments that he was daring Bob Iger and Jimmy Pitaro to get involved. He labeled Andrew Marchand a rat for the second time in recent months and accused Williamson of doing something without proof. That was the exact same thing that Rodgers did a few days earlier talking about Kimmel.

No matter how much I enjoy McAfee, this part was a mistake. Pat may be right about Norby but if you are going to accuse an executive of sabotage, you better have evidence. In some ways this is a page out of the Howard Stern playbook except this is happening at Disney on ESPN, not on WNBC in the 1980’s. I think most of us expected some type of turbulence between the two but this wasn’t on my bingo card for the first week of 2024.

Let me be clear, I love McAfee’s show. Pat has been a breath of fresh air for sports media for the past seven years and this business needs more talent like him, not less. He oozes passion, energy, insight, he’s committed to his staff, and I applaud him for investing in contributors who help move the needle. I also value his authenticity as a host, and the chemistry and fun that’s shared by the cast on the air. A lot of media people dislike Aaron Rodgers, which I believe is more about their own political views not aligning with the way the Jets QB sees the world yet they watch and react each time he’s on. If you don’t like what Rodgers says, don’t watch or listen. It’s not that hard. The need to try to silence others simply because you disagree is ridiculous.

Having said that, Pat has to be smarter than this. You can’t get personal with a top boss at ESPN and publicly disgrace them when you’re being treated like one of the main faces of a network. You’re being paid handsomely and given free reign to operate how you want on the largest sports network in the world. That same network is owned by Disney and you have to know there are certain lines you just can’t cross.

There’s a certain responsibility that comes with being ‘the man‘. If you want the respect, attention, and financial status that ESPN has made possible, then you have to act like the face of the network. Pat is no longer the underdog, doing it for the brand, and trying to prove he belongs. His plan worked. People dig it. To steal a line from Anchorman 2, he’s a big, fat, giant success. But it’s sort of like a band going from playing clubs to arenas to stadiums. You may want to stay true to your roots and what got you there, but when all the eyes in the world are watching, you’ve got to adjust and become a business not just a performer.

What I’ve been surprised by since Pat joined ESPN has been his increased sensitivity towards media news. He used to be the type of talent who paid little attention to it. Now, he can’t look away. Part of that leads to on-air gold like his reaction on Friday’s show but I can’t help but wonder why a guy who has it all is so concerned by outside noise that he has no control over. He got annoyed when The Athletic ran a poll questioning his fit on College Gameday (for the record, I like him on the show). He took a personal shot at Marchand for reporting how much Aaron Rodgers gets paid to appear, and now he’s put Norby Williamson on blast over a media story.

I haven’t shared this publicly before but it connects to my point about sensitivity. Pat’s twitter account blocked BSM about a year ago. Why? I have no idea. I tried to reach out multiple times and ask but never got a reply. I figured it was someone on his team who didn’t like seeing our posts but considering how much we have promoted him, his show, and even honored him at our 2020 BSM Summit, it was odd. I wondered ‘is there something we wrote that he took exception to?’. Only he or his team knows, and though disappointing, it matters little in the grand scheme of things. But when you allow little things to get to you, they can become big things, and that’s what happened Friday.

While the majority of my focus has been on McAfee, it’s also fair to question Williamson’s role in this process. Norby has been with the company for a long time. He’s an accomplished executive who the company has great faith in. For good reason, he’s earned it.

However, if it was proven that he was indeed leaking information to make someone at his own network look bad, how could he ever be trusted again? If he didn’t do it, then he needs to say that to Pat. Either way, this situation should be an eye opener for him. Clearly he hasn’t earned trust, respect or confidence from an important talent. Why is that? How did the relationship deteriorate to this point? What is he going to do to repair it moving forward?

A few high-profile personalities haven’t exactly endorsed Norby over the past few days. There’s been a perception that he has run off a number of star talents. If true, even the sharpest of executives knows eventually the other side wins. Judging from the commitment given to McAfee by Disney, Pat is not the individual I’d play a game of chicken with. If reports are accurate that Pitaro and Burke Magnus wanted McAfee and Norby didn’t, then he has to know you’re not going to win a 3 on 1 handicap match.

Despite the unwanted network attention and a few of the things I mentioned earlier that I think Pat has to learn from, I have been and remain a McAfee fan. I believe ESPN made a smart business decision hiring him and it’d be foolish to allow friction to tear apart a promising long-term partnership. As ESPN ultimately shifts to a model that depends on subscriptions, McAfee is a guy you want to be in business with.

What Mike Foss told the Washington Post is especially important to take into consideration when evaluating the partnership between ESPN and McAfee. Ben Strauss asked Foss about McAfee’s TV numbers being down based on Marchand’s report. The ESPN digital executive said, “I can understand how people looking specifically at a TV number would say Pat has a ways to go, but we’re not interested in only TV. This is a multiplatform acquisition, so you have to look at everything in the aggregate, and also where the industry is headed.”

Foss added, “Look at the relationship between McAfee, [Mike Greenberg] and Stephen A. [Smith]. That’s working together [on each other’s shows], and those three are the key to our future. As you turn to direct-to-consumer, audiences all of a sudden get to choose who they spend their time with. It is a personality-driven industry way more than a brand-driven industry. Who do you want to spend time with more than the three most important voices in sports?”

Marchand did his job reporting the facts on McAfee’s TV ratings but those numbers don’t tell the full story of McAfee’s impact and value. ESPN did not pay a fortune for a host to boost its Noon to 3 ratings. They invested in the entire Pat McAfee ecosystem. Given how splintered audiences are and where ESPN seeks to move its business, it’s foolish to measure success or failure of a key relationship using one part of the package and doing so just a few months into a five year arrangement. Do the hundreds of thousands of people watching his content on YouTube, social and College Gameday and special Megacast broadcasts not count?

Whether you like Pat or not, he’s super talented, reaches a younger audience, is a game changer in social/digital spaces, and is versatile. He’s someone you can build a weekday show around from Noon to 3, utilize in a sports betting partnership with ESPN BET, feature on College Gameday in a prominent role (which is especially important with Lee Corso slowing down), and he’s got the credentials to contribute to any type of football content and the personality to appear on shows like GetUp! and First Take, and create impact. Don’t also discount how much marketing value he adds each time he offers an opinion or welcomes a polarizing guest like Rodgers. That’s going to do much more for ESPN regardless of what the television ratings might suggest. If you needed any reminder of his value, just go look at the wave of reaction to this latest story.

Though I may be a McAfee fan, I am not a MacAfee apologist. He created a PR nightmare for ESPN this week and there’s not enough Advil to reduce the headache. I appreciate his candor and willingness to call someone out if he feels they’ve done him wrong, but if there are issues taking place between a top talent and executive, men have to be men and clear the air in private. To do it publicly leads to the point of no return. If you don’t believe me, look at how things ended between ESPN and Dan Le Batard.

If Pat’s goal is to leave ESPN, then this is one way to speed up that process. Norby and Pat may never be on the same page, and if not, that’s fine, but now this forces Iger and Pitaro to have to step in. You can’t have multiple incidents like this in the span of a week without repercussions. Not addressing it can have a trickle down effect throughout the rest of the company. It can also imply that Iger, Pitaro or Magnus are fair game. Pat has to know that’s not going to fly.

What I hope Pat appreciates and understands is that Bob and Jimmy moved mountains to make this partnership happen. Many have publicly questioned the fit between both parties yet you haven’t heard that from them. So now it’s Pat’s turn to tune out the noise, do what he does best, and hold up his end of the deal. That starts with using better judgement. He’s been given a blank canvas and allowed to paint. All that’s been asked is that he uses a few specific colors.

Some of the greatest talents to ever grace our television screens have worked at ESPN, and if we’ve learned anything from the past it’s that ESPN will cut ties no matter how successful someone is. Pat is one of the best performers in the industry today, and should be a huge part of ESPN’s future. He’s got a huge following, is extremely engaging, and is only 36 years old. No matter how much I sing his praises though, I understand that he’s not bigger than those four letters. A partnership can’t last if two sides aren’t committed to making adjustments to make it work. I’d like to see this work out because there’s tremendous upside for both. The question is will they be smart enough to adapt before it’s too late?

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Day Spent With: Omaha Productions

“We want to tailor it to what we think is going to be the best episode, and that can be anything.”

Derek Futterman

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Day Spent With – Omaha Productions

The fourth edition of BSM’s a ‘Day Spent With’ shifts to the digital world. Derek Futterman spent time in Las Vegas with Omaha Productions shadowing Kevin Clark and the production team to learn what goes into content creation with ‘This is Football.’ During the time that Futterman was on site, Baker Mayfield and Steve Young appeared on the show, each conversation cutting through as a result of Clark’s preparation and strong ability to listen and follow up.

In addition to observing Clark’s pre-show preparation process and talking with him at lunch about a variety of factors related to his program and work, Futterman also spent time with the production team consisting of Anthony Jimenez and Michael Flynn, and Omaha’s Head of Audio, Richelle Markazene. As a digital content brand, the programming isn’t restricted by a programming clock. That allows the hosts to focus on quality, and the production team to be selective. Once decisions are made on which content to amplify, the final touches are made to make sure it’s both compelling and visually appealing.

My thanks to Jamie Horowitz, Richelle Markazene, Kevin Clark, Anthony Jimenez and Michael Flynn for providing BSM with access to capture a day in the world of ‘This is Football.’ Next week, we move behind the scenes to educate readers on what goes into a day of programming at the ESPN Radio network. Derek spent a full day in Bristol with the majority of the network’s programming team and I’m sure you’ll find it to be as interesting as today’s feature.

Still to come are a day in the life of a market manager, social media manager, sports television show and media buyer. We’ve also left one slot open to see which of a few possibilities makes the most sense as we move deeper into the series. If you or your brand wish to be involved and have an idea you want to pitch, please email [email protected].

– Jason Barrett

As Omaha Productions host Kevin Clark prepares for an interview on his digital program, This is Football, he jots down his thoughts and elements of his research on standard yellow legal paper. The notepad does not have developed questions, but rather words or phrases that will prompt Clark to summarily craft a query apropos to the conversation itself.

Being on NFL Media Row for Super Bowl LVIII, he is aware that the content his show generates will be competing for the attention span of a variety of consumers. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas is filled with radio, television, digital and print media outlets all looking to document different facets of the week and disseminate a story to an audience. It is up to Clark to be distinctive and stand out.

While previously reporting for The Wall Street Journal and The Ringer, Clark recognized how essential it is to have a compelling value proposition to urge consumers to interact with his content. Amid an era with dwindling attention spans and imperfect methodologies, storytelling has to adapt to appeal to a wide audience. Although the first interview Clark is preparing for on this day is only scheduled to last for 10 minutes, he has committed several hours to studying previous media appearances by his guest and reading articles divulging different aspects of his career.

“I think the most important thing is getting these guys to tell you the best thing you’ve ever heard,” Clark said. “I used to have an editor who used to say, ‘The lead quote in every story should be, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ because you should literally be giving people something that has never been out there before and hasn’t even been thought of before.’”

Clark recently joined Omaha Productions after a four-year stint with The Ringer, transitioning into hosting his own digital media program in partnership with ESPN. Aside from being able to ask Peyton Manning questions about quarterbacks, he immediately observed that no two days are the same and evinces the many different ventures with which the company is involved.

“My feeling was with the way Omaha was set up and then the ESPN partnership and what I’m able to do with ESPN TV, when this all came together it felt like a no-brainer to me,” Clark said. “I love the Ringer; I still love these people [and] they’re still some of my best friends. Bill Simmons is my favorite media person ever, and I’m so lucky to have had him as a boss for so long and he taught me so much. It just felt like the right time, and there’s nothing but love for The Ringer.”

Omaha Productions recently completed its third year working on the Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli alternate broadcast, which averaged 1.24 million viewers across nine games this past season. In addition to its visual content, which includes iterations of the Places series on ESPN+ and the critically-acclaimed Quarterback series on Netflix, the network has an offering of original podcasts with video components. Knowledgeable and prominent personalities host these shows including Kevin Clark, Mina Kimes, Greg McElroy and Cam Heyward among others, many of whom were on site in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.

“I think it’s important for us to have them here,” said Richelle Markazene, head of audio at Omaha Productions, “to have the presence and also just the exposure, and the content that we’re getting here is extremely important for their shows.”

Last year, Omaha Productions received an investment from The North Road, an outside investment firm owned by Peter Chernin, that reportedly valued Omaha at more than $400 million. Omaha’s portfolio continues to grow with various projects and partnerships with companies such as ESPN, Verizon, Caesars Entertainment and PGA of America. Markazene observed the programming throughout the week on Media Row and took notice of various digital outlets on site ahead of the Super Bowl matchup.

“I started in this business in linear years ago and just what I’ve seen over what I consider a few short years is unbelievable,” Markazene said. “In this day and age where content can go out in any way, I think it’s fantastic for content creators, including us, and I love to see all of the new creators here, and for us to be a part of it is amazing.”

Former NFL offensive lineman and current broadcaster Ross Tucker complimented Clark during Super Bowl week, stating that his clips cut through his digital timeline. Rather than asking a few questions, carving time for a product plug and then thanking them for their time, Clark genuinely does not know the direction his interviews could take the show.

Instead of operating with a formulaic approach, he embraces his role as an active listener and is a welcome participant in the interview that sounds more akin to a discussion. There are benchmarks Clark wants to hit when he has a guest on the show, but there are still plenty of opportunities for free-flowing, extemporaneous talk as well, some of which comes through pertinent, direct follow-up questions.

“We have these guys for this set amount of time and can go anywhere with it,” Clark said. “We don’t have to ask them the score prediction [and] we don’t have to ask them what they think of [Patrick] Mahomes, although that could be a great question. We want to tailor it to what we think is going to be the best episode, and that can be anything.”

Going into his first recorded interview of the day, which was with free agent quarterback Baker Mayfield coming off a career-best season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Clark knew that he wanted to mention the unforgettable offensive frenzy in a collegiate game against Patrick Mahomes. Mayfield led the Oklahoma Sooners to a 66-59 win over Mahomes and the Texas Tech Red Raiders in October 2016 by throwing for 545 yards on a 75% completion percentage, attaining a 266.3 quarterback rating in just 36 pass attempts.

Before he broached that topic though and other football-related questions, Clark offered an icebreaker question by asking Mayfield if he was a Vegas guy. In response, Mayfield said that he has had some good and some bad experiences in the city, causing Clark to follow up and ask what happened. This led Mayfield to delineate that when he was 21 years old, he arrived in the city and ran out of money quickly. As a result, he asked his friends for money to buy water, off which Clark handed him a water bottle. Another probing question elicited Mayfield to reveal that he lost his money by playing craps and that he can only handle about three days in the city.

Clark says he has usually had about 10 minutes to speak with NFL quarterbacks throughout his career, necessitating that he is efficient and intentional to best optimize his time. In order to ensure he does not waste a question and crafts an informative, entertaining discussion, preparation is imperative so he can approach a conversation with the necessary background knowledge needed to thrive.

“When someone comes on our show – and it’s a different goal if it’s a writing thing or it’s a journalistic endeavor – but when someone comes on, we just want to have the best hang possible and give people a story they’ve never heard before; analysis they’ve never heard before, and I feel like with Baker we did that,” Clark said. “Talking about how he salvaged his career; the doubt he had last year; how he kind of simplified everything – my takeaway was that Baker was really good for 10 minutes. I really enjoyed it.”

The interview remained close to the plan Clark originally outlined with his producer Michael Flynn, who was keeping detailed notes throughout the conversation sitting alongside the video and audio engineers. The setup in its entirety contained three cameras, several microphones and lights to enhance the quality of the production with wires running to power stations and other computers.

After the interview concluded, Clark and Flynn reviewed the segment and identified topics within the conversation that could work to repurpose into standalone clips. In the end, they determined that Mayfield’s story about losing money in Las Vegas satisfied that criteria. Moreover, they also concurred that Mayfield’s anecdote about reigniting his career would also constitute interest from the audience.

The editing process began almost immediately after the conversation ended with the intent to post the interview as part of a show episode that same day. For Super Bowl Week, Clark recorded new episodes of his show that were released daily.

Generally speaking though, new episodes of This is Football are posted on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the NFL season. He uses the rest of the week to book guests and prepare for upcoming interviews. Clark does not have sentiments of complacency and indifference, retaining ambition that he hopes will allow him to balance the Omaha Productions work with another writing endeavor in the future.

“I want to write – it’s my favorite thing in the world – but if I said, ‘I’m just a writer,’ I never would have gone to The Ringer. I never would have said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this podcast,’” Clark explained. “….You can take storytelling you used to be able to do in writing and bring it to the digital space, and it gives you a unique perspective.”

Although he realizes he does not have the esoteric knowledge about football that some former players do, he can contextualize current situations and relate it back to previous experiences. For example, in his interview with former NFL quarterback Steve Young, Clark acknowledged that he did not know as much as Young. Consequently, he wanted to learn how Young reached a stage in his career where he was content with doing what is necessary to execute a play rather than demonstrate his immense talent at the quarterback position.

Clark took notes as he listened to all of Young’s weekly radio hits with KNBR during the NFL season before the 25-minute conversation at Media Row occurred. The program booked Young in advance, who, like Mayfield, was on a schedule of media appearances on-site throughout the day. Although the interview began 12 minutes late, Clark was not flustered and quickly spoke about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and head coach Kyle Shanahan.

“If you come into a Steve Young interview and say, ‘I’m going to go toe to toe with you on ball talk,’ you’re going to lose, the audience is going to lose respect for you and you’re going to have no credibility in anybody’s eyes,” Clark elucidated. “But if you can come in and say, ‘Hey Steve – I’ve done a lot of leg work; I’ve watched a lot of Shanahan stuff, but what do you appreciate that I would never appreciate?,’ he knows what that means and he can give us a great answer.”

During the interviews, Clark asks a variety of different types of questions while trying to avoid closed and double-barreled constructions. The process of active listening, which is supplemented by facial expressions and salient mannerisms, are demonstrated consistently and indicative of comprehension. At the same time, Clark is comfortable admitting he has less knowledge in certain subject areas and empowers his guests to expound on areas of shrewd acumen.

Clark recorded an introduction positioning the listener for the episode following the interviews, lasting 50 seconds in duration and immediately getting to the hook. There is no close for the show, instead ending on Clark thanking Mayfield for his time. Throughout the rest of the week, he repeated a similar process with guests such as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, ESPN analyst Marcus Spears and Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. While football is the main focus of his current work, he is open to exploring other areas to supplement the sport on the program as well.

“My feeling is to major in NFL always; that will always be the No. 1 thing,” Clark said. “Minor in college football and golf because I’m going to follow those sports and do research on those sports anyway, so I might as well talk about them.”

While Clark is enjoying his new job with Omaha Productions, he aspires to continue to grow the program to reach new audiences. One of those opportunities could be through a regular television slot, something he has yet to attain in his professional career. Clark is presently committed to growing the show with Omaha, and spending time on Media Row with current and former NFL athletes is a step forward in that direction. Just as he prepares for interviews, he ponders over how the show can continue to improve and further flourish with the company.

“The TV thing is very appealing, and I think if we can bring the perspective that we have on the show to bigger TV opportunities, I think we can have a cool thing going. That’s sort of the next year or so – I’m working on taking this show and its perspective; it doesn’t have to be this show – and growing it to new audiences, and a lot of that has to do with TV and a new audience.”

Markazene cannot pinpoint an end destination for the Omaha Productions audio division and is excited to be on the journey as it continues to broaden its reach and expand its notoriety. Clark is part of a deep roster of talented industry professionals poised to achieve stellar outcomes as Omaha Productions looks forward to what is ahead.

“It’s such an exciting place to work and the people are amazing,” Markazene said. “That’s the best part of it, but I think specifically for audio, we are a little bit over a year-and-a-half in now and also very pleased with the growth [and] pleased with the talent that we have with the shows that have been going since launch.”

Omaha Productions aims to create content that uplifts and unifies people, and Clark is already contributing to that mission through his journalistic background, commitment to the craft and passion for the storytelling process. Since the Super Bowl, there have been editions of This is Football previewing the offseason and free agency, and Clark remains invested in the space while continuing to hone his craft.

“I wish I had a better fake laugh because I don’t fake laugh at all,” Clark said. “It’s a problem because I’d be so much better at hosting if I just had a glorious fake laugh, and I’m working on it. It’s my offseason project – that glorious fake laugh.”

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NHL Network Features ‘NHL Tonight’ and a Hat Trick of Other Top Shows For Hockey Fans

In addition to the flagship program NHL Tonight hosted ably by Jamison Coyle, the network offers an eclectic trio of shows with talented on-air personalities who face off every night.

John Molori

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NHL Network

Hockey has become the neglected pup of the mainstream sports media kennel, but with exciting young talent, divisional battles, and sustained physical play that has been pretty much eliminated from football and basketball, it remains a great watch. Nowhere is the NHL better presented than on NHL Network.

In addition to the flagship program NHL Tonight hosted ably by Jamison Coyle or Tony Luftman and featuring analyst EJ Hradek, the network offers an eclectic trio of shows with talented on-air personalities who face off every night.

Top Shelf is a fun entry in the NHL Network lineup. The program showcases amazing shots, acrobatic plays, mind-boggling saves, and all-around uniqueness on the ice. It also provides a look at what’s new on social media including funny player reels and cool takes on the game. The show also specializes in some behind-the-scenes locker room footage. In a recent edition, they ran video of the St. Louis Blues humorously exchanging Valentine’s Day cards and hugs.

The Valentine’s Day theme continued with video of Carolina Hurricanes players offering some questionable dating advice. The guts of the program is counting down the best plays in the NHL from that week’s action. Top Shelf  offers viewers one-stop shopping to catch up on all the plays they may have missed but need to see.

The program is pretty much all video with no studio or on-screen hosts. The voice of Tony Luftman narrated the fast paced action moving from game to game and sequence to sequence. This particular episode highlighted another hat trick for Toronto star Auston Matthews, his sixth of the season.

Breakaway goals and crushing hits are the order of the day on Top Shelf. The video montages are backed by pulsating music and slick production values with quick cuts from one game to another. Voice overs on the action by NHL Network broadcasters such as E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto add to the excitement.

If Top Shelf  doesn’t provide a fix for the NHL junkie, On the Fly might just do the trick. The program provides a recap of the night’s games with star takes, stats, graphics, and high octaneaction. On the Fly features a rotating roster of hosts including Luftman, Siera Santos, Jamie Hersch, Jackie Redmond, Alexa Landestoy, and Erika Wachter among others.

Kudos to the production team for a powerful opening sequence with in-your-face graphics of NHL teams’ logos and images of NHL cities and regions. It actually gets you pumped up for the show. The recent episode I caught was hosted by the sublime Santos, who has made an indelible mark not only at NHL Network, but MLB network as well.

Her stylish demeanor, strong voice, and edginess break through the screen. On the Fly lets  the games do the talking. Santos introduces the highlight, but then it is all action with actual game broadcaster sound. This is a cool way for fans to hear the local broadcasters for each team.

Santos provides excellent information and data leading into the highlights. Prefacing the Stars-Bruins matchup, she noted that the recent Bruins’ skid knocked them behind Florida in the tight East Division. The show also features postgame commentary from coaches and solid analysis. On this episode, Santos was joined by NHL Network personality Mike Kelly, an expert on hockey analytics and player evaluation. Santos and Kelly worked well together, reflecting on the highlights and providing pertinent statistics and historical perspectives.

There is no rest for the weary with On the Fly. The show often briskly moves from one game highlight to another with no studio chit chat. The pacing and content make On the Fly one of the best highlight shows in sports television. You better stay focused or you’re going to miss something.

Each show finishes with the Top Shelf plays of the night followed by Santos’ Top 3 Stars. On the Fly is a like a breakaway up ice – pure speed, flash, and excitement.

While On the Fly takes a look back, NHL Now provides a look ahead. The program gives you a front row seat to the latest hockey news and prepares viewers for an exciting night of NHL game action. Lauren Gardner or Jamie Hersch host the show alongside analyst Mike Rupp and they are joined by a former player analyzing and previewing the slate of games.

I caught a recent episode with host Lauren Gardner alongside analysts Mike Rupp and Scott Hartnell. The look of the show caught my eye. The hosts were casually dressed sitting in leather chairs with hockey bobble heads on tables between them – a real living room setup, like you’re just hanging out getting ready to watch a game.

Hartnell, a 17-year NHL veteran, does an excellent job commenting on the games, and his insight is unique while Gardner and Rupp are two of the strongest swimmers in the NHL Network talent pool. Rupp, an ex-player who scored the clinching goal for the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final, has developed into a truly engaging personality.

His gritty experience sets him apart. Rupp is a hockey guy in the truest sense of the word – not a lot of flash and dash, just on the mark insight. Lauren Gardner is one of the most engaging personalities on sports television today. Like Santos and Redmond, she’s an absolute television chameleon moving in and out of various sports with great turns on both NHL Network and MLB Network.

Gardner is total effervescence, but her enthusiasm is tempered with mad skills. More than a vibrant personality, she’s an excellent host who lets the analysts do their thing and interjects her opinion when appropriate. It’s next level hosting and Gardner’s got it. She lives up to her last name, planting the seeds that sow great conversation. Gardner, Redmond, Santos, Wachter, and Hersch are like NHL Network’s version of Madame Web – strong and talented women with powerful sports voices.

Telling graphics, quick-hitting highlights, and no holds barred commentary are the hallmarks of NHL Now, but the talent sets the tone of the show. Rupp and Hartnell are unafraid to ruffle feathers and give straight up commentary.

The Daily Rush segment of the program provides updated NHL news and headlines. Rupp was extremely candid saying that the Vancouver Canucks, currently leading the Pacific Division, are not for real. He cited their lack of playoff experience and stated that they have talent and are fun and entertaining, but not consistent.

NHL Now also features interviews which have become “players only” segments for an, uninterrupted, 15-20 minute chat. On this particular program, they queried Brody Roybal, who has played nine seasons with the US National Sled Hockey team. It’s just another way in which the NHL Network covers the entire world of hockey.

The Tape Room segment of the show featured Hartnell and Rupp offering locker room insight while analyzing game action from a technical and strategic standpoint. Like most of today’s sports shows, NHL Now also offers dialogue on betting lines and prop bets.

Gardner moved the discussion to the recent 2024 Stadium Series featuring Metropolitan Division foes the Devils, Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders. The talk centered on the series’ impact on the standings. It’s an interesting topic because these outdoor games have an exhibition-like atmosphere, but they actually count.

NHL Now expertly combines interviews and information in a chill atmosphere with highlights, straight talk, fun exchanges, and hard hitting action. It’s what every fan needs to get ready for an exhilarating night of hockey.

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Advertising Clients Need to Be Known Before They Are Needed

Should top-of-funnel (ToFu) marketing be a top priority or not?

Jeff Caves

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Marketing and Sales Funnel Chart
Courtesy: EComEngine.com

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with advertising budgets that don’t allow for both digital and traditional broadcast advertising, like radio/TV, have to make a choice. Should top-of-funnel (ToFu) marketing be a top priority or not? ToFu marketing focuses on broad audiences and introduces them to your brand. The goal is to make a company known before they are needed. For example, if a homeowner has a leaky roof, who do they contact? Do they have a roofer they trust by memory, or must they enter ‘roofers near me’ into Google? A good roofer memory is likely because a ToFu strategy puts that roofer in the customers’ minds. Those customers respond to lower-funnel marketing tactics if they search in Google, yelp’s Top 10 roofers, or Angies List for a roofer. A ToFu strategy may still make a roofer jump off the Google page because the customer is familiar with that company. If they don’t know any company, those battles are won by whoever ranks first, has the lowest price, or has the quickest response time. The best roofers do not always win them. ToFu strategies lay the groundwork for future customer conversions. They also take time and money, but the results can be more sustainable. Here’s a closer look at the factors to consider:

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1. Cost Considerations: Traditional ToFu marketing channels, such as consistent monthly radio/television campaigns, print media, and prominent community events, can be outside an SMBs cash flow range. However, digital channels like content marketing, paid social media, email, and paid search can often be effective alternatives for SMBs. HubSpot’s State of Inbound report found that businesses prioritizing blogging are 13 times more likely to achieve a positive ROI than those not. And, if an SMB is a Business-to-Business (B2B) marketer, the Content Marketing Institute reports that 86% of B2B marketers use content marketing to get buzz and new customers.

2. ROI: SMBs should evaluate the potential ROI of TOFU marketing versus other marketing strategies. Some ToFu activities may not directly result in immediate sales, but they contribute to brand recognition and bring customer conversions in the long term.

Target Audience and Competition

1. Understanding the Audience: SMBs should assess whether their target audience is actively searching for their products or services or if there is a need to create awareness from scratch. If the target market is unaware of the brand or solution,  investing in ToFu marketing becomes critical. For example, if you are a breakfast/lunch restaurant with a great breakfast business but need a larger lunch crowd. The customers know you for pancakes, not paninis-ToFu could be for you! 

2. Competitors: SMBs should know if competitors invest heavily in ToFu activities. If competitors are doing ToFu marketing, it may be necessary for SMBs to put money there not to fall behind or be seen as a lesser brand.

 Think Long-Term

1. Brand Building: Early on establishing a strong brand presence can pay dividends in the long run. Even with limited resources, SMBs can leverage blogs, make social media posts, and participate in community events to build brand awareness and credibility. This is a great place to get started with learning how to push content out to get business and how to be involved in your community. The Content Marketing Institute reports that 86% of Business-to-Business (B2B) marketers use content marketing to generate brand awareness and attract new customers.

2. Customer Conversion: ToFu marketing helps fill the sales funnel with leads and pulls them through the bottom of the funnel. While immediate customer conversions may be limited, laying the groundwork for future conversions is vital for sustainable growth. According to a report by Nielsen, 59% of consumers prefer to buy products from brands they recognize. It can pay well to be known before needed.

Be Flexible

1. A/B Testing: Experiment with different ToFu strategies and measure their impact. Ensure the ‘test’ is at least 6-12 months to see if you can change customer behavior.

2. Adapt: While ToFu marketing may not always be a top priority, it’s important to stay on top of shifts in customer preferences and adjust strategies accordingly. Sales Reps who call on SMBs who know the market’s pulse or share local market intelligence have value in creating more customer conversions. Most SMBs don’t get to talk to 10-15 different business owners in their community weekly like they do.

While ToFu marketing is essential for building brand awareness and attracting new customers, SMBs must balance investing in ToFu opportunities and staying on top of other pressing priorities. By evaluating how to allocate budget, knowing the target audience, and using long-term marketing strategies, SMBs can become known before they are needed and influence why customers come to them.

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