When the news broke that President Joe Biden was skipping the pre-Super Bowl interview for the second straight year, the immediate reaction was mostly folks doing the political math. That figures. The idea of a president doing a sit-down in advance of the NFL’s biggest game of the year is, after all, inherently a political calculation.
But setting aside for a moment the election-year implications of Biden turning down CBS’s offer of free air-time, let’s take a moment to celebrate. This is a victory for the rest of us.
The Super Bowl is a spectacle, sure. It’s an over-the-top production that long ago shucked the idea of any self-constraint or, say, modesty on behalf of the NFL. It’s a massive showcase — by far the most-watched TV event in the United States every year.
It is also political in its own right, without a doubt — at least in terms of what the NFL thinks it can imprint on the minds of viewers. Or did you think that the league rolls out football field-sized flags and hams up the patriotism angles every year just for giggles? America’s sport, indeed.
But presidential interviews during the pre-game? Let’s draw a line in the sand.
They aren’t of any particular benefit.
They are not, contrary to anything you’ve read over the past week, a tradition.
And they just kill viewer momentum. Kill it dead.
Biden did CBS a favor. There’s nothing weirder than watching an hour — or hours — of pregame coverage sizing up Super Bowl opponents and featuring in-depth looks at certain players or stories, only to suddenly be zig-zagged over to a straight news interview with the President of the United States in which we’re hearing about real-world issues and crises.
It feels disorienting because it is. There is nothing trivial about the recent U.S. strikes on Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq in response to the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan, or the conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Gaza strip. Planting such serious discussions in the middle of a football game pre-show was always a strange idea — it just happened to gain a little traction for a while.
You heard a lot in recent days about Biden foregoing the “traditional” Presidential Super Bowl interview. Let’s slow our roll on that. Before Barack Obama in the late 2000s, no American president had ever done such a thing, and the Super Bowl has been broadcast since 1967. The closest any previous president came was George W. Bush, who took part in a coin toss in 2002 and did a sports-centric couple of minutes with Jim Nantz in ‘04.
Since then, the interviews have become the province of the host network’s news division – and grown far less lighthearted. Presidents and their advisers have adjusted accordingly.
Biden said yes to CBS in 2021 and also to NBC in 2022, then skipped last year’s pre-game on FOX and turned down CBS this year. The president’s advisers are reported to have been concerned about the number of voters who say they already have election-year fatigue, and thought viewers might resent the injection of politics on game day.
“We hope viewers enjoy watching what they tuned in for — the game,” said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman.
Donald Trump did a couple of pre-games, but he turned down NBC in 2018, meaning that the short history of this particular event is already spotty. Obama, seemingly always at ease in the world of sports and comfortable in a sit-down interview setting, is the only president who made an unbroken habit of pre-Super Bowl appearances. His advisers clearly viewed the window as valuable, and perhaps even as a bit of a pre-State of the Union warmup.
But that’s just the thing: The actual State of the Union generally falls just a few weeks after the Super Bowl. This year it’s March 7, and on that evening President Biden will reach well more than twice the number of Americans who might happen to see him on a pre-SB hit.
That’s about all it is, by the way — a hit. Although the interviews themselves usually run around 15 minutes when they’re recorded, only three or four minutes make it into the Super Bowl pre-game show in the years they’ve run. Viewership is comparatively low, too: While the Super Bowl itself may reach 115 million U.S. viewers or more, only an estimated 10.2 million watched Biden’s pre-game interview on CBS in 2021. Meanwhile, 27.3 million watched the president’s State of the Union address last year, and 38.2 million the year before.
Again — political calculations. What matters to us, the viewers, is that this Sunday’s pre-game show on CBS will be delightfully devoid of that strange shift in the weather, when we’re all suddenly asked to step out of our football escape and re-enter the complicated real world around us. As if there wasn’t time for that afterwards.
It’s interesting: Back in 2015, NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie was preparing for her Super Bowl interview with President Obama, and it hit her how difficult it is to actually do these things.
“You have to remember, this is an interview that takes place in the Super Bowl pre-show,” Guthrie told Variety a year later. “The last thing everyone is thinking about or wanting to talk about is politics.”
Well said, and amen. Adults in the room generally have no problem distinguishing between the fantastical world of spectacle sports and the often-grim reality of what lies outside. That doesn’t mean they need — or want — the two conflated on game day.
Mark Kreidler is a national award-winning writer whose work has appeared at ESPN, the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and dozens of other publications. He’s also a sports-talk veteran with stops in San Francisco and Sacramento, and the author of three books, including the bestselling “Four Days to Glory.” More of his writing can be found at https://markkreidler.substack.com. He is also reachable on Twitter @MarkKreidler.
WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit
“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”
The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.
I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.
Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.
Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.
Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.
I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.
If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.
As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.
In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.
Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.
A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at [email protected].
Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones
There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.
In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.
The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.
Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”
Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.
Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.
When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.
We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.
Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.
If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.
We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.
I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things. There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].
Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”
Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.
“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”
Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.
Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.
“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”
The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans?
Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!
“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”
Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled.
According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage.
“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”
Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.
“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’
“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.”
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].