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TV Networks Compete Leading Up To Super Bowl LVIII

From players to prop bets to pop stars, Super Bowl week brought out the best in television conversation.

John Molori

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Super Bowl LVIII logo

The Super Bowl is the single biggest game on the American sports calendar, but it certainly is not the only game being played this week. Sports programs across the media landscape are offering previews, prognostications, and patter on Super Bowl LVIII. This competition for scoops and hot takes might be even more competitive than the actual game between the 49ers and Chiefs.

Throughout the week leading up to the Super Bowl, NFL Network has been running a steady stream of related programming. The network’s Super Bowl Opening Night telecast was ably anchored in studio by Colleen Wolfe. She was joined at the desk by Maurice Jones Drew.

The pair talked about how the Chiefs’ defense has carried the team this year. Wolfe then threw to Allegiant Stadium and young Jeremiah Fennell, the 11 year-old wunderkind reporter who set Media Day and the Internet on fire. The unflappable Fennell filed a tremendous interview with Chiefs’ TE Travis Kelce. He didn’t flinch at all, asking the old pro numerous questions.

It was then back to Wolfe and Jones Drew. The latter raised his game discussing whether the 49ers could better defend Kelce than the Ravens did in the AFC Championship game. The attention shifted back to Allegiant where Mike Robinson had a nice interview with Chiefs’ running back Isiah Pacheco.

Both Jones Drew and Robinson have become mainstays on NFL Network. Robinson was a presence from jump street while Jones Drew has grown on me. Wolfe, as always, was excellent presiding over the program.

Similarly, the ladies took center stage on CBS Sports Network’s That Other Pregame Show. Aditi Kinkhabwala and AJ Ross did a nice job reporting from Vegas talking about the pressure to win on 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco defense. Kinkhabwala and Ross are top-notch reporters, really thorough at getting a story and relaying it to viewers.

Ross provided some in-depth statistics on the 49ers issues with runs outside the tackles. She also quoted numerous players showing that she did the work, talked to the teams, and got first-hand knowledge. Panelist Amy Trask added to the festivities with solid commentary on Christian McCaffrey’s outlook against the Chiefs’ stellar defensive front and Brock Purdy’s potential stats in the game.

Katie Mox, a burgeoning talent at CBS Sports Network, has been excellent all season providing odds making and betting insight. This week, she did a nice turn talking about over and under bets for the Super Bowl. Mox consistently lights up the screen with charisma and content.

Speaking of lighting up the screen, Inside the NFL on CW featured an eclectic array of commentators during the week, among them Chad Ochocinco, Ryan Clark, Jay Cutler, and Chris Long. Taking it a step further, the panel welcomed TNT hoops gabber Charles Barkley for a lengthy and laugh-filled interview.

The erstwhile ‘Round Mound of Rebound’ became the ‘Round Mound of Soundbites’ prattling on about coming to Vegas for the Super Bowl for the past 25 years, his betting acumen, and the upcoming big game.  

Barkley said that he regrettably bet against Patrick Mahomes against the Bills and Ravens and, in a bold and cutting move, called FS1’s Skip Bayless a fool for saying that Bill Belichick is a glorified defensive coordinator.

Clark made the point that the Chiefs have become somewhat villainous because they have won so many times. Clark made the point that fans now root against them, astutely comparing them to what the Patriots experienced during their dynastic heyday. We are used to seeing Clark in an analysts’ role on ESPN, but he showed real hosting chops running the show on Inside the NFL.

Television debate has been omnipresent leading up to Super Bowl LVIII. The Herd with Colin Cowherd featured one of the best exchanges between Cowherd and sidekick Jason McIntyre. The duo talked about the Andy Reid retirement rumors leading to a discussion on other head coaches who walked away from good teams including Nick Saban, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher.

McIntyre said that he would put Andy Reid on the Mount Rushmore of all-time coaches. Cowherd lauded Reid for winning with multiple quarterbacks as opposed to Belichick who only won with Tom Brady. His point was a bit deceiving. Yes, Reid has won regular season and playoff games with multiple quarterbacks, but he has only won the Super Bowl with Mahomes.

It should also be noted that Belichick did win a playoff game in the 1994 postseason with Vinny Testaverde as his quarterback with the Browns. He also won 11 games in 2008 with Matt Cassel as his quarterback and went 3-1 in the first four games of 2016 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett as his quarterbacks while Brady was serving his ‘Deflategate’ suspension.

The quarterback talk continued on ESPN’s Get Up with a discussion of Patrick Mahomes’ growing legacy. The show’s research staff put together a telling graphic of professional athletes who have won three championships and two MVP awards in their first seven seasons.

It is one of the most impressive lists you’ll ever see with Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Guy Lafleur.

Host Mike Greenberg was blessed with a terrific panel comprised of Mike Tannenbaum, Jeff Saturday, and Marcus Spears. Spears has moved to the forefront at ESPN on a number of different programs. He brings passion, grit, heart and real talk. You must listen to him when he speaks because his words come from experience. Spears does not deal in clichés. His opinions are direct and powerful – dude is a star.

The panel also discussed what is at stake for Kyle Shanahan in this year’s Super Bowl. They made the point that since 2017 the Niners are 0-3 versus the Chiefs in the regular season and playoffs. With all of his genius plaudits, Shanahan has yet to win the Super Bowl and still lives with the Scarlet Letter of being Atlanta’s offensive coordinator in their epic collapse against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Reputations and perspectives were also bandied about on First Take. The ESPN ratings giant jumped into Brock Purdy’s moniker as a game manager. Jeff Saturday said that the game manager title is not an insult and that Purdy put up similar stats to what Joe Burrow did in his second season in Cincinnati. “He is driving the bus, not being carried on the bus,” Saturday said of Purdy.

In a lively and glib retort, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo stated, “Let’s take it easy Jeff. He’s not Joe Montana.” Russo reminded viewers that Purdy played terribly in the Niners’ playoff game vs. Green Bay and darn near blew the NFC title game vs. Detroit.

Stephen A. Smith gave Purdy props, saying that he’s a “damn good quarterback” – the best that Shanahan has had in San Francisco and as good as Matt Ryan was when Shanahan was in Atlanta.

On NFL Total Access, the NFL Network crew was led by host Kimmi Chex. I really like her style. I lamented the departure of MJ Acosta-Ruiz from the program with Mike Yam taking center stage, but Chex brings a really fun and upbeat tone. She is bright, and asks good questions, not only on Total Access, but in her stints on the NFL GameDay franchise.

The program featured Travis Kelce at Media Day talking openly about how important it is to him and Mahomes to win two straight Super Bowls. Chex then tossed to reporter James Palmer in Las Vegas who provided some information on the Chiefs’ lengthy practice sessions.

Yam joined Maurice Jones Drew and Bucky Brooks for some chit-chat about the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes and what the San Francisco defense is facing. The gist was that Mahomes not only executes the original play but can seamlessly change the play at any time. It was a fast paced program, and Chex was all over it as host.

Of course, no Super Bowl LVIII previews would be complete without some talk of Taylor Swift. The ubiquitous music megastar has dominated the airwaves over the last few weeks with her romance with Travis Kelce and attendance at Chiefs’ games.

On the CBS Mornings news program, Super Bowl talk centered around Swift. A telling graphic showed that, according to Apex Marketing Group, the Chiefs and the NFL have added over $331 million in equivalent brand value since Swift entered the picture.

Reporter Nancy Cordes filed a story about how Swift has created a whole new demographic of fans with football viewership among girls ages 12 to 17 up 53% this season. The Taylor Swift affect works both ways. Cordes reported that viewership of last weekend’s Grammy Awards on CBS rose 86% over last year in the Kansas City market.

From players to prop bets to pop stars, Super Bowl week brought out the best in television conversation. Now, let’s see if the actual game is as entertaining.

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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.”

Jason Barrett

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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.

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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.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

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.

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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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.” 

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