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The Four-Letter Word That’s Killing Great Content

Demetri Ravanos

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One of the other steady writing gigs I have is reviewing movies for the local NBC affiliate in Raleigh, NC. I mention this because this week’s major release is the remake of the horror movie “It”, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was too scared to go see the movie myself, so I sent my wife.

That made me think of a subject that I feel isn’t covered enough with leaders in the media: fear. I’m not talking about not having conversations about things that go bump in the night. I’m referring to why program directors and hosts too often operate from a place of fear and why it’s considered acceptable.

I’m going to tell a story that on it’s face may sound like it’s designed to make me look like Billy Badass. The truth is it is just a story of a time that I was so taken aback by a leader that I was afraid of what might happen because he was unwilling to see what could actually happen.

I was interviewing for a job, and it doesn’t matter where it was. All you need to know is that it wasn’t Boston or Florida. That’s important because this took place on the morning that Aaron Hernandez’s dead body was found hanging in his jail cell.

I was brought to town for a second interview. The meeting was a simple lunch with the PD, his boss and myself. We talked about sports, debated if the AM SportsCenter or the recently launched 6 PM edition with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith was better, and talked about an upcoming trip my family was planning to Banff National Park in Canada.

Then I was asked what I thought about Aaron Hernandez’s death. I said I didn’t really think anything about it. The big boss asked if I would cover it if I were running that day’s afternoon’s show, and I told him I would because even though the market had no local ties to the story, it was the only thing on SportsCenter that morning.

So next he asked “what specifically would you do so that people have a reason to listen to Demetri talk about this story?”.

“I was thinking about this on the drive down. I would use the music from Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ and write a parody song called ‘Goodbye New England’s Rose,” I said.

The PD laughed. His boss did not.

“Let me tell you why that it is a bad idea,” said the boss. “When I hear you tell me that is what you would do, I think about the guy that is going to pick up his phone and call me to complain.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because suicide is a serious thing, and I think about that one guy that is going to call because in his mind you went a step too far. To me that guy makes a bit like that, no matter how funny, not worth it.”

Now, dear reader, this is where I tell you that I was holding back my anger. I’ll explain why in a minute.

“Oh,” I said. “See, I never think about that guy. He’s not who my show is for.”

Everyone was really friendly and it was a perfectly pleasant lunch, but I knew right then that the job was gone and in hindsight, maybe that was a good thing.

I tell you this story not to advocate for the sports format becoming a realm for shock jocks trying to “out controversy” each other. I was in my car driving home after the meeting and realized that was probably how the guy heard my defense. “I never think about that guy. He’s not who my show is for” sounds like a nice way of saying “I’m not here for the PC police, maaaaaaaaaan!”

I know. It makes me want to vomit too.

My point in saying that and writing this column is to remind you that programming and creating content from a place of fear is counterproductive. Do I know that my “Goodbye New England’s Rose” bit would have been a hit? Of course not. Do I know that I would be the only one doing that? You’re damn right I do.

Fear leads us all to the same place. A radio landscape ruled by fear has led to a lot of local shows sounding the exact same. They have their Mt. Rushmore debates. They bring on a gambling expert. It’s like a fill-in-the-blank workbook. All you have to do is plug in the right team and player names and the same show works everywhere, right?

Strive to be truly different. Quit demurring from the chance to stand out in the minds of thousands because you’re afraid of the phone calls you may get from a handful. Don’t resist the urge to push a coach for better answers or to show more personality and create a memorable interview because he may be annoyed for a day.

None of us were drawn to radio or TV because we just wanted to be a part of the crowd. We’re the ones who wanted to stand out. Fear serves no one. Programming a station when you’re afraid to lose a tenth of a ratings point can cost you the opportunity to grow your ratings in a truly significant way.

If you believe that popular opinion is wrong, be the one voice willing to take the unpopular stand. Do it with passion and creativity and even the people that disagree with you will want to hear what you have to say. With so many different options for consuming sports opinions in 2017, it is only the truly fearless that stand out.

BSM Writers

When Will NFL Studio Shows See Fresh Faces?

Having a Hall of Fame lineup certainly lends credibility to any group of analysts, that said credibility can’t outweigh entertainment.

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It seemed NFL coaches were so old when I was a kid. Don Shula, Marv Levy, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves, they all looked so old. Maybe I was just young and all those guys were just in their 40’s (which now, I might add, is quite young). No doubt, NFL coaching seemed like an old man’s game.

No longer is that the trend. The following NFL coaches are in the 40-or-younger crowd: Mike McDaniel, Kevin Stefanski, Brandon Staley, Sean McVay, Kevin O’Connell, ZacTaylor, Nick Sirianni and Arthur Smith. That’s one quarter of the head coaches in the NFL that are 40-years-old or younger. The NFL coaching youth movement is a very real thing.

When will that move to the NFL studio shows? That remains to be seen. Those shows are massive money makers for FOX and CBS but they have also started to trend a bit older. The networks are doing all they can to hook younger viewers to guarantee a long term viewership of games they pay billions to air. Need I remind you of the CBS/Nickelodeon simulcast of NFL Playoff games? The Over 50 crowd doesn’t know what it meant to “get slimed”; shoutout, Marc Summers.

It is startling to look at the cast of each studio show and the last time they were active in the NFL. Start with the desk of The NFL Today on CBS:

Bill Cowher – 2006

Boomer Esaiason – 1997

Phil Simms – 1993

Nate Burleson – 2013

The FOX numbers are even more startling. Look at the last active years of the analysis on FOX NFL Sunday:

Terry Bradshaw- 1983

Howie Long – 1993

Jimmy Johnson – 1999

Michael Strahan – 2007

If you are a 20-year-old NFL viewer, the only person of those eight analysts you can reasonably be expected to remember playing or coaching is Nate Burleson. This is not to say these shows don’t serve their purpose, to entertain and inform, not at all. Those shows can be very entertaining and the combined Hall of Fame knowledge on those two desks is unparalleled. But, in an entertainment world that is trending younger, when does the youth movement start?

Here’s one major issue, that list of players and coaches above have a lot of mustard jackets among them. Having a Hall of Fame lineup certainly lends credibility to any group of analysts, that said credibility can’t outweigh entertainment. If any show isn’t entertaining, it will not last long. These shows have found a way to weave in humor with the Pro Football Hall of Fame level of analysis.

But humor to some generations is not humor to all generations. What is funny to a guy in his 60’s may not reel in the 20-30’s crowd. Don’t tell me FOX and CBS are not interested in that group, they know it is crucial to long term success. FOX is so interested in that group they spent time using Snapchat filters on their hosts during the Thanksgiving studio shows. Make no mistake, that day brings a massive audience for FOX and CBS.

In fact, according to FOX Sports, the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game was watched by 42 Million viewers, the most-watched regular season game on any network on record. This is as big as it gets until the NFL reaches the postseason. It was on that stage FOX chose to use the Snapchat angle, knowing families were gathered across the nation watching that game. That meant an entryway to the younger demographic looking for anything to watch to get away from the conversation with their elderly aunt.

According to Omnicore Agency, Snapchat has 319,000,000 users and 65% of 18-29-year-olds in the United States use Snapchat. This is the audience FOX was trying to reach on their Thanksgiving studio show. It is the audience they would love to reach every Sunday.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have shown even the biggest names will walk straight from the most successful of careers to an NFL telecast. Manning is part of his production company’s Manning Cast during Monday Night Football and Tom Brady is slated for the main FOX booth after his retirement. If those two guys see value in it, you can bet most any player would.

FOX’s hand will soon be forced, Jimmy Johnson is 79 and Terry Bradshaw is 74. Those two can’t work forever and there will need to be a plan in place for the sake of continuity. The difficult thing is identifying which players or coaches have the gravitas to sit on that desk with those Hall of Famers.

Age comes for all of us and there isn’t a Snapchat filter that can change that. If they do invent one, maybe my kids will tell me about it…and show me how to use it.

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Can Tom Brady Realistically Be the Critical NFL Broadcaster He Envisions?

If Brady frequently harped on players and the level of performance on the field, would he risk becoming the NFL’s John Smoltz?

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Tom Brady and his presumed future as a broadcaster has been viewed with some skepticism. After 23 seasons of playing in the NFL, and considering what this season has apparently cost him personally, will he still want to devote so much time to football calling games each week?

Naturally, this is under the presumption that the 2022-23 NFL season will be his final one as an active player. And it’s easy to draw such a conclusion. Would he really want to put himself through another season like this one?

Ending his brief retirement to play another season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have been the breaking point for his marriage. The Bucs aren’t playing well, compiling a 5-6 record going into Week 13. Yet in an NFC South division in which no team currently has a winning record, Tampa Bay could still make the playoffs.

Joe Buck recently expressed doubt to Jimmy Traina on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast as to whether or not Brady will ever join Fox Sports and the 10-year, $375 million contract reportedly waiting for him. It’s one thing for football fans and sports media observers to speculate on Brady’s future. But it’s quite another for people in the industry — and in this case, someone who still has close ties to decision-makers at Fox Sports — to ask questions.

Last week on his Let’s Go podcast, however, Brady sounded like he’d already put some thought into how he’ll approach broadcasting — or as he put it, his second career. Perhaps he was influenced by having the famously outspoken Charles Barkley as a guest on the show, but Brady believes he would be candid in his analysis and commentary.

“I’m going to be on TV and have the opportunity to be more critical than what I’ve been as a player,” Brady said to Barkley and Let’s Go host Jim Gray.

He then explained that whenever he had a problem with a teammate or coach, he addressed it directly and the issue stayed between them. That would obviously be different on television, where Brady is talking to the viewing audience.

“As I think forward… I’ve had 23 seasons professionally, when I watch football now, the only thing I see — nine out of 10 — is ‘Man, that was a really bad play,'” Brady added. “As opposed to the really spectacular play that [Patrick] Mahomes made or the spectacular play Josh Allen made. Now, it’s like, ‘Man, what a bad defensive play, what a bad play by the quarterback.'”

In Brady’s view, playing with exceptional athletes like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Mike Evans set a standard in his mind. But expecting a high level of play from teammates is quite different than applying such a measure to players he’s watching and scrutinizing as a broadcaster.

As a quarterback and team leader, Brady can directly affect the outcome of events. He can help inspire greater effort and achievement. Or as we’ve seen during Brady’s career with the New England Patriots, he can break a player’s spirit (especially rookie wide receivers) by grinding them against the diamond wheel of expecting perfection.

The first thought is that Brady could be enormously popular with viewers and media if he was critical of players or coaching decisions. That’s often the first flaw fans will point out in a broadcaster. “Ah, he never rips anybody. Protects his buddies.”

It’s why Barkley is so popular. We want to hear what he’s going to say. We don’t know what he’s going to say. But it will likely be sharp and funny. Yet is that too much to expect from a game analyst? Brady cites golf analyst Johnny Miller (“scathing”) as a model. But he also seems to understand that there’s a risk in being too negative.

Barkley warned against that earlier in the conversation with Brady and Gray when sharing advice that he received from Dick Ebersol upon his entry into broadcasting.

“People always tell you they want to hear the truth. They really don’t, Jim,” Barkley said. “[Ebersol] said, ‘Fans want you to tell them two things: Their favorite player is great and their team is great. If you tell them their favorite player isn’t great or their team sucks, they automatically don’t like you.'”

If Brady frequently harped on players and the level of performance on the field, would he risk becoming the NFL’s John Smoltz? Smoltz is frequently criticized for acting as if he does not like baseball in its current form. And viewers get tired of listening to that.

But to be fair, Smoltz was excellent during this year’s National League Championship Series and World Series in explaining how pitchers execute a game plan versus batters. And if Brady had the ability to quickly explain what he was seeing and the reason for his criticism, rather than just heavy sighing or huffing, that could be compelling commentary.

Yet that would have to be balanced with some healthy admiration too. Maybe not Tony Romo-level gushing, but some insight into how spectacular a play is would balance a broadcast out nicely.

It’s encouraging that Brady has some idea of what kind of broadcaster he’d like to be. When news of Fox essentially reserving Brady for his post-playing career was reported, the sentiment was that he was taking an offer that couldn’t be turned down ($375 million!) and might end up as more of a corporate shill (“brand ambassador,” etc.) than a broadcaster of substance.

Judging from his remarks to Barkley, Brady has put some thought into this. Maybe he’s been thinking about it for years. Perhaps it crystallized during his one-month retirement. But is Brady being naive about what’s realistic for a broadcaster? Would a Johnny Miller work in an NFL booth? Players might not clap back at Brady and his seven Super Bowl championships as they do to Barkley and his zero NBA titles.

Ultimately, however, fans would hold Brady to the high standard he’s envisioned for himself in broadcasting. The possibility of a must-watch analyst in an NFL broadcast booth is certainly enticing. Maybe he’s created some anticipation and intrigue for his career after football. Tom Brady has never shied away from expectations as a player. Perhaps the same will apply to him as a broadcaster.

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Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jac would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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