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Q & A with Jeff Rickard

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Many mortals don’t want a heavy workload. Jeff Rickard doesn’t want any part of a light one. The ESPN and SiriusXM Radio host has basically experienced it all in sports broadcasting. On-air host, Program Director, play-by-play announcer — you name it. Jeff has done it while accumulating a wealth of knowledge.

When Jeff isn’t hosting shows, he works as the Program Director at 107.5/1070 The Fan in Indianapolis. We caught up to talk about his philosophies as a programmer, his career path, and the potent combination that is the foundation of a great sports talk host. Jeff also mentions what he considers to be the most interesting aspect of sports radio these days, and the most annoying. Enjoy.

BN: How’s the Program Director life treating you?

JR: I like it. I think it’s always been natural for me because radio is just in my blood. I’ve been doing radio since I was a teenager. I started out in small markets where you had to do everything. My first real job of consequences probably was as a Program Director in Tri Cities, WA. Later on being an Assistant Program Director in Denver — getting my first real big gig in Salt Lake City. Then, from Salt Lake City I was the Sports Format General for all of Citadel Communications.

I’ve always just loved radio and how things work and why they work. Where you put things on the air and why you put them there. There’s a really satisfying feeling of how to grade talent and then putting great promotional content around it — putting it all together in one package. Then, when you’re driving down the road listening to the great talent that you have surrounded by all the things that hopefully you put in place to support them, and it all sounds like one big symphony. If you’re doing it right, it sounds good. If you’re doing it wrong, it bugs you until you get back in the office and fix it the next morning. You know how that goes.

BN: Do you have any sort of hierarchy in terms of what you prefer doing more than others when it comes to programming and hosting shows?

JR: I personally like working with the talent. When you get guys in place that you respect and you like listening to — they’re different than you are and they have great ideas and they have their own way of doing things — I like being able to coach them and get the most out of them and what their talents are. Really try to help them find what’s best for them in their own voice and in their own way.

I think too many times talent coaches make the mistake of, “I’m going to go in and I’m going to make the guy sound this way.” You’ve got to work with the talent that you have, but there are talented guys out there. Everybody is just a little bit different so your job is to try and get the most out of them with their style and what they want to become and how they want to do it.

I’ve found in the past, if you want to fit a talent into a different way of doing things and they’re not buying it, it’s not going to work for anybody. Everybody is just going to be miserable. You take guys with their talent and what they do. You tell them the things that you expect and the things that you need formatically — how and why this might be a better way to do it — and you let them experiment. Just give them options and hopefully they can find their best voice through your lens.

BN: Are there ever times when you’re in a meeting with a talent and they say something where you’re like, “Wow, never thought of it that way,” or they teach you something with what they say?

JR: Absolutely. I’m not just saying this because it sounds like the cliché thing to say, but I think if you talk to people who’ve been doing this a long, part of the energy that you get back is what those people around you give. There’s something to learn from everybody every day. There may be a completely different style or way of thought — it’s not at all the way you would do it, or would’ve thought of — then you hear it come out of the radio and you go, “You know what, that worked pretty well for that guy.”

That’s the one thing I’ve learned over the years. It’s like a quarterback in the NFL. You’re gonna run an offense differently — if you’re an offensive coordinator or a head coach — if you have Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady than you are if you have Trevor Siemian or Brock Osweiler. There are certain things you can ask people to do and they’re going to be able to do it. You’re not going to tell Aaron Rodgers — you’re going to give him direction and guidance like, “Hey, Aaron. You missed this other guy open over here.” But those are guys that understand the philosophy of the game.

They have so much physical talent that you have to let them be themselves once the game starts. You give them a game plan. You tell them what you like to see. This is the philosophy of our offense. This is what we’re trying to accomplish and why, but there are some people that are so talented, you just almost have to get out of their way and let them run. There are other people that just need a lot more coaching whether it’s through inexperience or maybe they’re not quite as gifted as some of the other people, but your job is still to get the most out of them, just as it is to get the most out of the superstar so to speak.

BN: How often do you host shows right now?

JR: Between three and six times a week. Between Sirius and ESPN — I just filled in for Dan Dakich on my station today. I’ll fill in when needed here. I prefer that other people fill in here because I’ve got so much to do, but when needed I’ll fill in. Between all of the things combined, I’m still doing around 300 shows a year.

BN: 300 a year? That’s basically full-time on air.

JR: That’s why I said I’m busier than a three-legged cat on ice. I’m just trying to stay in my lane and not hurt anybody and make sure I get everything done that I need to do. I think because I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve just learned what I need to do — what’s really important, what I can delegate, what other people can do for me because it helps them develop and grow.

I’ve always been a believer that you don’t just give assignments to people because, “Oh, I don’t have time for this. I’ll let them do that.” Hopefully, when you give assignments and you delegate to other people, you’re helping them grow in their career too. You’re showing them how to someday do your job.

BN: When you’re doing the two-hat thing programming and hosting shows, you’re going to be stretched thin. When it comes to having your show set up the way you want it, how do you approach it if your time is more scarce than you’d like it to be?

JR: I have a studio in my home and I’m always up to date on stuff. Sirius knows that they can call me for breaking news or whatever and I can do a show on Jim Mora getting fired from UCLA or I can do a show on the NFL. Or somebody’s equipment is down and they’re stuck in travel and, “Hey, Jeff, we’re on the air in 30 minutes, can you fill in?”

What I’ve always done and this is kind of my daily routine — I get up early in the morning and the first thing I do is spend about an hour going over everything I can find on the internet that’s new, that’s different, what I didn’t know the night before. The last thing I do — my wife and I call it my evening sweeps — I spend another 30 to 45 minutes just scouring what happened during the day. Anything that seems interesting to me. I use that kind of as a general show prep. Now, if I know I have a show coming up I can be a little more focused. Just doing those two things, and then like everybody else constantly checking Twitter throughout the day when you have a minute here or there to make sure you’re not missing things.

I always call it kind of a river of information. We live in this information overload era, but it’s a river of information. I don’t know how you feel, but it seems to me that once you’re swimming in that river and you stay swimming in that river, you’re just kind of in it. You just know what’s going on day to day, moment to moment. That’s what’s helped me out a ton. The broadcasting experience I have, so I don’t worry about that. First thing in the morning and the last thing at night, I try to make sure I’m as up to date as possible in just about everything of major consequence in sports.

BN: You mention looking for stories that are new and different. If you apply that to talent, is there a host that you think has a style that’s just new, different, and something that most people haven’t heard before?

JR: Yeah, Dan Dakich, who happens to be on my radio station. One of the things that really attracted me to the station was Dan’s personality. He’s very abrasive. He’s definitely one of those hosts who you either love or hate. I get feedback from both sides all the time, but he’s unique and different. To me, that’s what makes him special.

First of all, you couldn’t go out and find another Dan Dakich. He was Bob Knight’s protégé for a long time. For whatever reason, which I still don’t know and I have never asked, he and Coach Knight had a falling out of some sort. He never specifies why or what happened. I don’t ask, but there’s a lot of Bob Knight in him.

Dan just says what’s on his mind. There’s very little filter. Sometimes, that can get him in trouble, but because he’s had so many unique experiences as both a head coach and an assistant coach under Bob Knight, and he’s got by nature just a very outspoken way of doing things — he tells you what he thinks and why he thinks it — doesn’t really care whether you agree with him or not — it’s new and it’s fresh.

I don’t know that we’ve had someone with that unique set of experience come to talk radio in sports. He knew what it was like to be with Bob Knight and there’s a lot of Bob Knight in him. A lot of that’s good too, it’s not necessarily all a bad thing. He’s been a head coach at a Division I program. Here in Indiana, for a short time he was the interim head coach for the Indiana Hoosiers, which is a pretty big deal in Indiana. He’s now also the Big Ten main analyst on ESPN. His national exposure has grown with his personality.

He’s a take-no-prisoners guy and sometimes he’ll go a little bit too far, but I’d rather have a guy that I have to pull back a little bit than a guy that I have to push toward that line. Dan’s just fearless in that way. He’s kind of damn the consequences. He says what he thinks. He’s got a very unique and entertaining style in which he delivers it. A lot of people get really upset and irritated by it, but the thing he does that we’re all looking for is that he makes people think — he makes them emote. That’s, to me, what I’m looking for in a good talk show host.

I wish I had more kind of nastiness in me like Dan has. However, Dan is not a nasty person at all, so that’s probably not the right word. There’s an edge to him. It’s edgier than what I have. I’ve had people tell me throughout the years that I respect a lot, “Man, if you were just a little more edgy, and a little more outspoken,” but that’s not who I am. You have to be true to who you are and Dan is certainly true to who he is. He doesn’t try to be anybody that he’s not. I’ve just really grown to respect the talent that he has.

BN: Some of those adjectives are interesting — abrasive, fearless, edgy. With young hosts — do you think that they’re less abrasive and more fearful that if they check their Twitter timeline and someone calls them out they’re going to be a basket case? Is there anything age-related with styles?

JR: I don’t think it’s so much age-related as it is self-confidence related. In a case like Dan’s, and I don’t mean to make this all about Dan but sinse we’re using him as an example, he has very clear opinions on what he thinks and why he thinks it. He’s lived it and he’s coached kids. He’s been a college athlete. He coached with Coach Knight. He travels to meet and talk to coaches all the time. When he says something, in his mind it’s been vetted. He’s lived it. He’s talked about it. He’s thrown it past other people. So, when he has that fearlessness about it, I don’t think there’s any hesitation from him because in his mind he is right.

That’s what makes a really good talk show host. You can agree or disagree with him, but in his mind, he’s right and he’s not afraid to go toe to toe with you verbally. Whether people like that style or not, people do listen to it. It’s interesting, when you’re walking down the street and you hear two people kind of getting in each other’s business, you stop and you pay attention like, “What’s going on over there, man? What’s happenin’?” It doesn’t mean a fight is necessarily ready to break out, but those are the kind of things that cut through the clutter.

I don’t think it’s so much an age thing. I think it’s more a confidence, “This is who I am. This is what I think. This is where I’m going.” You look at some of the great talk show hosts and radio personalities — look at Howard Stern who is unbelievable, right? He’s always been fearless when he gets on the air. He’ll take whatever slings and arrows come his way because in his mind he knows what’s going to make people laugh, or make people talk about him. I think Dan has a lot of that gift inherently in him.

BN: So how exactly did you end up in Indianapolis?

JR: I was working in Bristol for ESPN, which I still do now. My wife, who is a very talented attorney, was offered a really great job out here. We looked at the cost of living. We looked at everything — the jobs and the schools and everything else. She said, “Well, what do you think? Could you live in Indianapolis?”

When I think of Indianapolis — they do Final Fours here. They do Super Bowls here. They do sports festivals here. There is something happening here — Big Ten Championship, football, basketball. There’s NCAA Regionals all the time. I mean there’s always something going on here.

I thought, “Man, if you can get a great job for yourself and advance your career” — she’s general counsel for an insurance company now — and I can be in the middle of a really great sports city — and in this day and age of technology still do all of my Sirius and ESPN stuff out of my house. That’s how we ended up here.

BN: That’s not a bad gig. Just curious, what ages are your kids and where are they at in their lives?

JR: I have two little guys. They are eight and nine. My eight-year-old is a really gifted student. I’m so proud — he’s just a smart little kid that loves sports. And my oldest, who’s nine, doesn’t really care about sports at all, but man, he will make you incredibly buildings, vehicles, whatever out of LEGO. He’s just a really creative little guy.

They’re both finding their niche, and it’s fun to watch them grow. They’re both doing really well in school and I just couldn’t be happier with where they are right now. When we moved to Indianapolis they were five and four. So, they knew Connecticut and their house there. They had a great little school there. One of the greatest schools I’ve ever come across. It was hard to leave that, but we found some good schools here too — some terrific teachers and things that we liked. I think in their minds — the oldest one has a little bit more memory of Connecticut than the youngest one, but for the most part this is really the home that they know. So far, so good.

BN: How did you arrive at ESPN in Bristol to host national shows?

JR: I had done a little bit of work for ESPN when the Olympics came to Salt Lake City. I was the Program Director and I was an on-air host in Salt Lake City back in 2002 when the Olympics came there. I sat in on a couple of shows with Trey Wingo and some other folks from ABC Sports. At the time they were all in town with ESPN. They let me do a couple of shows and then I did a couple of New Year’s Eve shows for them — the special holiday shows over a couple years.

A few years later I was speaking at a seminar for Jon Chelesnik. He and David Brody were hosting a seminar for STAA. Bruce Gilbert, who was running ESPN Radio at the time, and I were both speaking at it. We just started talking. My contract was coming up at Sporting News, which I left Salt Lake City to go to Sporting News.

I had been there for a couple of years and my contract was up. Just because it was coming up I kind of offhandedly sent an email to Bruce going, “Hey, you guys are probably full, but would you have anything open at ESPN Radio?” He literally emailed me back within like two minutes because that’s how Bruce is. He’s so good at stuff like that. He said, “Hey, we’re looking for a host on GameNight. Let me get you in touch with Justin Craig.” I talked to Justin over email. We talked over the phone. Then, they flew me out there. I did a show with Doug Gottlieb one night and I guess they liked it. They hired me and I’ve been doing stuff for them ever since.

BN: How did you initially get into the business?

JR: I was always an athlete, but I was a lot like my youngest son — I was smallish side. It was hard. I did walk on and play at an NAIA school in football (Colorado Mesa University), but I didn’t play a whole lot because I was small. I think I only weighed like 155 pounds or something like that. I was a good enough athlete that I could be on their scout team and play secondary. I was like the backup kicker because I could kick the ball a long way. I wasn’t always accurate, but I could kick it a mile.

I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to have a big future as an athlete. Even though I was a good athlete for my size, it just wasn’t going to happen. I had always loved sports and I had always loved TV and radio. I used to do play-by-play of the old NBA Finals games into a tape recorder when I was in high school. I’d give the cassettes to my dad. He’d listen to them on the way to and from work and give me critiques.

Broadcasting was always something that interested me because at least you were involved in the game and that was always my big thing. I just wanted to be involved in the game and be around the game because I loved the game. I loved being an athlete and I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. I just wanted to be connected to sports. I just think it’s the greatest thing in the world.

I started working at the college radio station while I was still playing football. Then, I got a job at the 50,000 watt station that was the play-by-play home for the local college. Pretty soon I started being kind of an analyst for them and a sideline reporter for games that I didn’t play. By the time I got to be a senior, it was clear where my future was going to be so I didn’t play football anymore.

I just started broadcasting some of the games and I started working at the TV station there in Grand Junction, CO, which is also right near the college. It just kind of went from there. You know how the stepping stone goes. It went from Grand Junction to Billings, MT, then to Washington State and back home to Denver to start up The Fan, which is gosh all the way back to 1995. It makes me sound older than I am — I started when I was a teenager just so people know.

That’s where it really started to take off was when I started working at The Fan in the mid 90s and it was such a great time in Denver. The Broncos were winning Super Bowls. The Avalanche were brand new and they won a Stanley Cup. Colorado State I think one year finished with Sonny Lubick in the top 10. They were beating up on teams from the Pac-10 at the time, it’s the Pac-12 now. They were beating on teams in the bowl games. The University of Colorado was still decent. They had Rick Neuheisel as a coach one year and then Gary Barnett. The Rockies had just gotten there and just opened Coors Field.

I was in Denver and that really helped me because my role at the radio station — in addition to doing on-air shifts — I was the beat reporter for whatever was happening. I was the studio host for the Nuggets and Avalanche. During the summer, I was the beat reporter for the Rockies. I also covered the Broncos during the week during football season too. I was really busy but getting plugged in at that level to all four major sports has really helped me.

I couldn’t do the things I do at Sirius on a moment’s notice and talk about that river of information. It’s easy for me to do a show on MLB Network Radio because I’ve been covering baseball as a beat reporter since 1995. I’ve been covering the National Football League as a beat reporter since 1995. I’ve just kind of been lucky. I think I’ve worked real hard at everything and I think I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that I’ve been given and that have been presented to me. Every time I saw an opportunity, I jumped on it and I’ve just been fortunate to get a lot of opportunities too.

BN: It sounds like you don’t know how to not be busy.

JR: I don’t think I would know what to do. The other thing is, I still somehow someway — and I tell my family this — I still need to spend time with my kids for a little while every night. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I either go for a ride on my bike for an hour, or I ride indoors for an hour just to stay in shape. I’ll probably watch SportsCenter if I’m riding indoors or I’ll listen to sports radio or something like that while I’m on my bike.

It’s like killing two birds with one stone. I can get my workout in and still listen to what I need to. I think staying fit and healthy has really helped me do all of those things too. You gotta have a lot of energy for that. I think the fitter you are, the healthier you are, the more energy you have.

BN: What do you think is the most interesting aspect of sports talk radio right now, and what’s the most annoying?

JR: My favorite sports talk radio host is somebody who has real knowledge, but also has a fan’s passion for it. That’s a really rare thing to find.

Whether someone who has been a beat reporter or whether someone has been a lifelong, find out everything I could ever find out about my favorite team my whole life kind of fan. When you can combine somebody that’s got the professional knowledge, I mean real professional knowledge in sports, not just listening to people from watching TV and games but being at practices, talking to players, finding out why they did things, what were they thinking, how did they do this, why did they approach it this way.

When you do that for a good amount of time, you really start to understand truly the mindset and culture of the teams and the athletes. If you still retain that fan’s passion — that’s when you’re going to find gold because you gotta have that fan’s passion. If you take the passion of a fan and now you mix it with somebody who really truly knows what’s going on, man that’s a potent combination — a really potent combination.

One of the things I like about Sirius, and ESPN does a really good job of this too, they take these people that have lived this lifestyle. It doesn’t even have to be an athlete — it can be a coach, you could be the former general managers that ESPN uses a lot of the time — they take these people with real professional knowledge of what’s going on, but they have a fan’s passion. You can tell that they love what they’re talking about. That’s when you find gold.

What I can’t stand are the people that just want to be on radio and TV just to be on radio and TV. I cannot stand that personally. I can’t stand it because they’re not interested in what they’re really there for. They’re just interested in being on TV or being on the radio.

BN: Can you hear that right away when you listen to somebody?

JR: Yeah, listen to Colin or Doug Gottlieb and what they do, just to make it about different networks too. Colin paid his dues as a sports reporter on television and as an announcer with certain teams younger in his career before he found talk radio in Portland. Then, he really seized on that. He had a really solid foundation of knowing sports and knowing how and why teams do what they do.

What’s it like on a road trip? What’s it like for the average athlete when he’s away for a week and a half? Because you’re with them and you see what they do during the day when they’re not at practice and how they approach it. When they get bored and why they get bored. How they work out before practice starts. How they work out after practice is over. You talk to the coaches about the game because you develop a relationship with them. They’ll tell you, “We got our butts kicked and I’ll tell you why right here.”

It’s something that you as a layperson probably never would’ve seen. It teaches you to see a different game than you otherwise would’ve. Colin is also an entertainer. He knows the game and has never lost the passion of the fan. I think he brought that and that’s what he does as well as anybody.

Doug Gottlieb, obviously with his basketball career — people don’t realize it, but after college basketball at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State, he played overseas professionally for a couple of years. Here’s a guy again with real life experience that most of us don’t have. Doug is a little bit like Dan Dakich — he’s got very strong opinions. He says what he thinks. He very rarely puts a muzzle on himself. If he thinks it, he’s going to say it. He doesn’t put a lot of filter on it. Maybe it offends some people sometimes. Maybe it doesn’t, but he also understands humor and he mixes that in.

He’s got that passion for the games. I think you can hear with those guys is the great passion mixed with a really great amount of knowledge. Those things, once you combine them — I go back to it again — Brian, you just can’t find that everywhere, the people that have both of those things. Now, if you throw in the ability to entertain on top of that, now you’re talking about really special talent on that level.

BN: Is there anything that you haven’t accomplished yet that you’re really striving to achieve?

JR: Yeah (laughing), you know what’s funny, I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d end up being a talk show host. It’s what I’ve been doing now since 1995. All I ever wanted to do was pay bills by being a talk show host so I could do play-by-play.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that I’ve done well over 1,000 games in almost every sport you can imagine — college to professional. That’s my passion. That’s what I always wanted to do, but it just so happened that every time I turned around I kept getting bumped ahead and promoted in sports talk radio and so that’s just kind of what I followed. Unfortunately, I’m doing fewer and fewer play-by-play games, which is what I’d really like to be doing, but at the same time life’s been good to me. So, I keep riding the wave.

BSM Writers

Kevin Burkhardt Is Broadcasting’s Most Unlikely Success Story

“To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins.”

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There is always something appealing about the 50-75% off rack in a clothing store. It is the hope against hope I can find a shirt in my size that doesn’t look like a 1980’s Bill Cosby sweater and a velour tracksuit had a baby. That is not where FOX went shopping for Tom Brady.

Nope, FOX paid top dollar for their newest NFL analyst. Though the actual number first reported by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post (ten years, $375 million) hasn’t been confirmed by FOX, it is safe to say Brady will be the highest paid sports analyst in television history. “Will be” because he has that pesky little roadblock of finishing the greatest NFL career we’ve ever seen first.

I’m glad Brady could finally catch a break, looks like things are turning around for the poor guy.

The reason Brady is even being hired is that FOX is in the relatively unique position of having an entire booth opening for their top NFL game telecast with the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ABC/ESPN. The closest thing we’ve seen to this situation was the 2006 move from ABC to NBC of Al Michaels and John Madden. Of course, ABC was moving Monday Night Football to ESPN at that time and the break felt a little more natural.

As another side note, that was the Al Michaels/Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. Yes, one of the greatest play-by-play voices in television history was traded from ABC to NBC for some Ryder Cup rights, an Olympic highlights agreement and the rights to a cartoon rabbit. Oswald, of course, was the forerunner to Mickey Mouse. That must be the cartoon equivalent of what it was like being the opener for The Rolling Stones. The house lights are up, the single guys are hitting on the single ladies and everyone is coming back from the concession stands ready for Oswald to shut up so Mickey can take the stage.

What this has created for FOX is the search for the play-by-play partner for Brady, the role 46-year-old Kevin Burkhardt has earned. You’ll notice I said “earned” instead of “was given”. No, Burkhardt has absolutely worked his way to the top of the FOX ladder, starting by covering local high school football in New Jersey. In fact, my favorite part of this story is Burkhardt, not Brady. 

Burkhardt is as good an example of perseverance paying off as you will find in sports broadcasting. As Richard Deitsch once profiled for Sports Illustrated, just 15 years ago, seemingly having given up on hitting it big, Burkhardt was selling cars for Pine Belt Chevrolet in New Jersey. His silky smooth voice has been one of the reasons Burkhardt has climbed the FOX ladder but can you imagine him describing what is under the hood of a 2005 Chevy Suburban? Or him saying, “We have cars for every price range starting as low as $10,000. From ten to 15 to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50…”

To go from a car lot to the main NFL on FOX booth in less than 20 years is about as likely as one quarterback leading his team to seven Super Bowl wins. Maybe that is why this pair will work. Brady, himself, was fairly close to using that business degree from Michigan. If not for a fortuitous draft pick and a Drew Bledsoe injury, the car salesman-sixth round pick broadcast team may have never happened.

Burkhardt’s climb is a lesson for young people looking to break into the sports broadcasting field. I’d be writing this from my summer home in Santorini, Greece if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how to get on the air in sports radio or TV. My answer is the same every time: go to your local radio or TV station that carries high school sports and tell them you’ll volunteer to be part of the production. Trust me on this, local stations make good revenue on high school sports and are looking to produce it as cheaply as possible.

I did that when I was in college at Jacksonville State University and worked my first football season, 14 weeks, for a free game of bowling and a free meal for two at a local bar-b-que joint. I can’t calculate now how much that bowling and bar-b-que has been worth to me since. I was able to get on the air, learn the craft and make all my early mistakes in a very forgiving environment.

The local high school broadcast teaches you how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. You will, at some point, call a game from a booth shared with a member of the home team’s quarterback club, a man who lives for the free pizza and cookies in the Friday night press box. He’s certain the game officials are either blind or on the opposing team’s payroll and doesn’t care if your crowd mic hears him yelling it.

That’s if you are fortunate enough to have a spot in the actual press box. When I was in college, doing high school play-by-play on WHMA-FM in Anniston, Alabama, we once were told there was no room in the home team’s press box for a state playoffs semifinal game. We convinced the station’s sales team to go to the local equipment rental store and negotiate for us to use a scissor lift at the stadium. They delivered it for us and it became our perilous mobile broadcast booth for one Friday night. 

The lessons learned in those years shaped my career. Those same types of lessons were also the building blocks for the man who is now slated to call the biggest games on FOX, including the Super Bowl, for the foreseeable future.

It is crazy to think a man drafted 199th is now paired in one of the biggest jobs in sports TV with a man who once tried to convince people to add on things like the Platinum Level Pine Belt Chevy Service Agreement. Those are the stories we love in sports. Now, those two will tell us those types of stories for years to come.

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BSM Writers

Patrick Beverley Announced Himself As the Next Sports Broadcasting Star

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its studios without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over.

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@ESPN on Twitter

Last week, Fox Sports announced the signing of what the network hopes is the next sports broadcasting star in Tom Brady. More dazzling headlines came from Brady’s mega-deal with Fox, though the network disputes the 10-year, $375 million figure reported by the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand.

This week, however, viewers may have seen the emergence of another future sports broadcasting star. And unlike Fox, ESPN didn’t tell us NBA player Patrick Beverley would be an impactful commentator based on name recognition and contract size. The network showed us Beverley’s talents and capabilities with sharp, biting opinions on its Monday daytime studio shows.

Beverley, who played this season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has long been known as one of the NBA’s most provocative and irritating defenders. Coaches regularly task him with checking the opposing team’s best player.

He obstructs opponents physically with quick footwork and hands that result in steals, blocks, and rebounds of missed shots. But he also throws players off their game verbally and mentally, getting in their heads and forcing them to think about matters other than the game at hand.

That talent for highlighting weaknesses and insecurities in opponents serves him well as an analyst, which Beverley demonstrated by skewering Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during appearances on Get Up and First Take. On the Monday morning after the Suns’ shocking 123-90 Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs, the NBA guard went beyond stating that Paul had played badly.

Appearing with JJ Redick, Beverley could’ve said something obvious and safe like the Suns needed their leader to score more than 10 points with their season on the line. Paul needed to elevate the rest of the team and make them better. But given a national platform, Beverley pushed harder than that.

“They benched the wrong person,” Beverley said, referring to center Deandre Ayton playing only 17 minutes (and less than four minutes during the second half) in what Suns coach Monty Williams called an “internal” matter.

“They should’ve benched Chris… Once you see they started attacking Chris early and that might become a problem later on, you need to see how my team works without Chris in the game.”

On First Take, Beverley continued his criticism of Paul, especially his defense.

“There ain’t nobody worried about Chris Paul when you play the Phoenix Suns, nobody in the NBA,” Beverley said to Stephen A. Smith. “He’s finessed the game to a point where he gets all the petty calls, all the swipe-throughs at the end.

“We wanna be really honest? He should’ve fouled out. The last game, too. You see the replay against [Jalen] Brunson, hit him on the shoulder, hit him on the mouth, ref don’t call anything. If that’s me, ‘Oh, review it! Flagrant 1!’ If that’s him, they don’t call it.”

Beverley went on to say Paul can’t guard anyone and called him “a cone” that stays still while opponents run around him. That is scathing commentary coming from a current NBA player, criticism not typically heard on a studio show.

Yet if Beverley sounded bitter and resentful toward Paul, it’s because he is. The 10-year veteran holds an intense grudge against the Suns guard going back to when they faced each other in high school and college, which he explained to Redick earlier this year on his podcast, Old Man and the Three (via Awful Announcing).

“Chris, he does slick s**t,” Beverley told Redick. “People don’t know, that’s a little dirty motherf***er, man. Chris know that too, man. I know you don’t want to say it, but I’ll say it for you, though. I know he was your teammate.”

Paul wasn’t the only Suns player targeted by the guest analyst, however. Besides saying the entire Phoenix team was “scared,” especially of Mavericks star guard Luka Dončić, Beverley had plenty of criticism for Ayton, saying he was “OK” after Redick called him “fantastic” on First Take.

“I’m all about greatness,” Beverley said (via the Arizona Republic‘s Duane Rankin). “What would Wilt Chamberlain do? What would Shaquille O’Neal do? Get it off the rim. Y’all don’t have him in the pick-and-roll, I’m going to get it off the rim. I’m going to go get it. I’m going to go get it.”

Ayton only scored five points in Phoenix’s Game 7 loss. By “get it off the rim,” Beverley meant that there were plenty of opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks with all of the shots that Paul and Devin Booker missed. (The two shot a combined 7-for-22.)

ESPN shouldn’t have let Beverley leave its South Street Seaport studios in New York City without signing him to a contract that put him in an analyst role as soon as his playing career is over, as Fox did with Tom Brady. Actually, the network should make sure Beverley appears across its daytime schedule while he’s still an active player, as Turner Sports does with Draymond Green. And why not on NBA Countdown as well?

Fox drew the headlines last week for signing Tom Brady to its top NFL broadcast team without having any idea if he will be good at calling football games. He received a reportedly massive contract to prevent him from going anywhere else after he retires, and Fox is banking that casual fans will tune in out of familiarity and curiosity.

Patrick Beverley doesn’t have that kind of mainstream recognition. The NBA isn’t as nationally popular as the NFL. And studio analysts aren’t typically as well-known as game commentators. But maybe that’s more true of football. Who is the most famous basketball analyst? It’s Charles Barkley, by far.

Barkley is known for his candor and pointed opinions, which stand out in a studio setting far more than they would during a game broadcast as the action keeps moving. His jokes and jabs can be easily captured in video clips that play well on social media and have a shelf life on YouTube. ESPN has never had that kind of personality for its NBA coverage. No matter how hard it’s tried, the network has never produced anything close to Turner’s Inside the NBA.

But ESPN, whether realizing it or not, may have found its guy in Beverley. Put him on NBA Countdown and it instantly becomes a better program. Let PatBev argue with Stephen A., as he did on Monday’s First Take, and the pregame show is something that generates buzz and conversation.

Maybe Beverley, Redick, and Stephen A. would make for a good post-game show, something ESPN has never done while Inside the NBA shines in breaking down what just happened. Yes, there’s SportsCenter and Beverley could appear with Scott Van Pelt afterward. But a strong NBA postgame show could become a key part of the overall package. What if SVP played moderator as Ernie Johnson does with Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal?

Doesn’t that already sound better than what ESPN is doing now? Don’t let PatBev get away! He could be the network’s next big, must-watch star. Especially if he has grudges against more NBA players besides Chris Paul.

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BSM Writers

Mike Raffensperger Examines The Business of Sports Betting

“McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know.”

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Pat McAfee has built quite a following since the end of his playing days. Last December, the former Indianapolis Colts punter signed a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel to make it the exclusive sportsbook of The Pat McAfee Show, where he seamlessly blends gambling talk with football talk every weekday. 

Last Thursday, McAfee welcomed Mike Raffensperger to the show for a very insightful and informative segment. The Chief Marketing Officer for FanDuel touched on numerous topics during the interview, ranging from how likely it is that each state will eventually have online gambling, to which show member was having the worst gambling run per their account history.

While some questioned the decision to give McAfee such a high amount of money in the deal, it appears to have paid off handsomely for FanDuel. In a report put out last week by their parent company, Flutter Entertainment, the book signed up 1.3 million active new customers in the first quarter of 2022. In addition, their 1.5 million active customers on Super Bowl Sunday was the highest single-day total ever, and the 19 million bets they processed during the NCAA Tournament signaled the most popular betting period in the book’s history. 

Raffensperger discussed some of the challenges that have been overcome with getting the FanDuel online service up and running in states as they slowly begin to legalize it. He stated that 15 states currently offer online services, but that getting all 50 will never happen.

He cited Utah as an example, as their state constitution clearly outlaws gambling, but stated that many states have legalized it because it is “pretty common sense legalization.” He does believe we will see many more states, including California, legalize sports wagering in the coming years, however. “You will see a continued, steady pace for the next few years, and then you will get close to a critical mass, but you will never get to 50.” 

McAfee asked how much of a role COVID-19 played in the legalization of sports gambling, and Raffensperger said many states were forced to explore new ways to recoup tax revenues lost during shutdowns. “From a state, municipal budgets, they needed tax revenue,” he said, while also discussing how it went from being something done in the shadows to commonplace. “It is taking a black market that is unregulated and unsafe, into a safe and regulated environment, and creates tax revenue for the state. It’s very common sense.”

One of the more informative discussions came when McAfee asked what Raffensperger would say to listeners that complained they were unable to take advantage of odds boosts or promos that FanDuel offered through his show, yet were not available to listeners in every state. This is a common issue for radio stations throughout the country that have gambling ads in multi-state markets.

“It tends to be a little more restrictive,” Raffensperger said regarding how states tend to regulate what can be offered in the months following legalization. “Then over time, as states get comfortable, we build a good relationship with our regulating partners.” He added, “it does tend to open up a bit more over time” as they build that rapport within a state, but fully understands the frustration for customers and listeners. “At the end of the day, we gotta own what the customer experience is, and it’s FanDuel’s job to work through those regulatory challenges to make it as easy on customers as possible.”

When McAfee asked him about whether more brick-and-mortar book sites might be coming in the future at professional stadiums, Raffensperger was quick to point out it was also impacted by state regulations. Stating that 90% of all their bets were made online, he also questioned to what end a physical site would be a prudent investment.

“Beyond a physical teller and placing a bet, what is a super premium or luxury experience that would make being at a sportsbook different than what you have in your mind of a Vegas sportsbook,” he asked theoretically, “but being at a retail stadium?”

He also said that physical sites, like online apps, are tied to regulation on a state-by-state basis. “You’re either allowed to take a physical bet in a sports facility or not. Most of the time, and in most of the laws, you have to have already been a gambling establishment, either a race track or a casino, to have a physical book.” 

They also touched on the McAfee same game parlay for Super Bowl LVI, which Raffensperger confirmed was tailed by more than 200,000 of his listeners. Paying out nearly eight-to-one, the wager was for Cooper Kupp to score a touchdown and to have more than 60 yards receiving, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr scoring a touchdown, and Joe Burrow rushing for 12 or more yards. Raffensperger said the parlay, which needed just nine rushing yards from Burrow to hit, may have been “the biggest parlay liability in the history of gambling,” and would have cost the book nearly $50 million had it come through. 

One final interesting fact was the rise of women in the sports gambling space. A report over the weekend from Global Wireless Solutions stated that the growth rate of women signing up with sportsbooks is 63% higher than the rate of men during the same time frame. They also reported that in 2021 FanDuel added almost 1.7 million new female customers, with DraftKings adding close to 900,000 in the same span. As sportsbooks look to bring in higher market share and look to find new ways to advertise their services, women are likely the next major demographic the books fight over. 

All in all, it was a terrific interview from all sides. Entertaining and enlightening, McAfee asked some outstanding questions, as he often does, while Raffensperger pulled back the curtain on a lot of things listeners and customers of the book were wanting to know. The partnership appears to be greatly beneficial for all parties involved, and hopefully the positive reception to the McAfee interview will lead to more transparency and open dialogue from sports book executives to their consumers.

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