There are people in sports media that reach a certain level of success and simply mail it in. Mike Florio is not one of them. He’s a true grinder that has remained hungry to work in spite of achieving noticeable success in print, radio, and TV. With an extensive law background, Mike is a bright guy that knows the meaning of the word complacency but rages against the concept.
Jason Witten announced his retirement from the NFL last Thursday. Some of his words stood out. “Other players might have been more talented, but I can assure you, no one was going to outwork me. Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me how do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys, have that type of career, my answer is always the same, ‘The secret is in the dirt.’ I learned early on in my life through many challenges that I could change my circumstances with hard work, but I would have to be willing to go out and earn it. I yearned for the daily grind, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”
I don’t know if Witten read a few posts on Pro Football Talk from Florio before giving that speech, but a lot of those same qualities can be found in Mike. Good luck outworking that guy. He has changed his circumstances through hard work and also yearns for the daily grind. “The moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.” That quote is actually from Mike below, not Witten.
Mike’s journey throughout the world of sports media is an interesting one. There are epic stories about how he became a fill-in host for the Dan Patrick Show and his introduction to the radio hard out. In between a few laughs, you will get a sense that the key to Mike’s success is the time that he devotes to his craft. Like Witten said, “The secret is in the dirt.” A keyboard and microphone aren’t literally “the dirt,” but the idea of being committed to hard work still figuratively applies. Mike. 5’7. 167. Ding.
Brian Noe: Do you have an offseason personally?
Mike Florio: Not really. I’m on the same schedule that the NFL is on. Things slow down from the middle of June until the end of July when training camps open, but there is still always something happening. I get a little bit more free time because we take time off the radio and the TV show, but I still work on the website everyday. It really isn’t all that hard to open a computer and type. If we have a family vacation I’ll take it with me and I’ll work. If I’m just hanging out here I’ll make sure that I work during that time that we’re off on radio and TV.
It does slow down after the draft. The workload begins to diminish some, but by the middle of June it’s the lowest point. Even then I keep putting news out there for people to read or they’re going to go somewhere else. You can’t shut it down or you’ll lose your audience. We keep it going, but it’s coming — middle of June, end of July, that’s a nice four-to-six-week period where it’s not the usual grind. Then the grind starts at the end of July and it ends the following draft.
Noe: Do you have any funny stories from when news has broken during a vacation and you had to work on a story?
Mike: No, because it’s rare that there’s anything huge that comes out when we’ve been out somewhere. I can remember being on a family vacation back when they didn’t sign draft picks until not long before the start of camp and having to step out from family dinners and stuff. The one thing this year when Josh McDaniels pulled the plug on going to the Colts, I had just gotten back from the Super Bowl and I was out to dinner with a bunch of family members. I had to get up and run out the door and drive home to work on that. Usually I can deal with whatever I’m dealing with without having to just flat-out vanish and disappear.
Noe: What is your busiest time of year?
Mike: Free agency is the busiest time because it has that build-up a couple of days in advance. Then once it starts who knows what’s going to happen or who’s going where? It’s more of a concentrated off-we-go kind of a thing for free agency. The draft is more sustained and never quite as hectic as it is on the first day of free agency. That’s typically our busiest day, our highest traffic day, and then the draft would be a close second. Obviously during the season there are different times where things get hectic, but during the offseason — free agency is number one and the draft is number two.
Noe: With the interest for the draft being so high, how noticeable is the drop-off once it’s over?
Mike: After the draft people are still reacting to what happened. They want to get everyone’s perspective. They are curious about what’s said by coaches and general managers. If anything the traffic gradually levels off during the period of time after the draft. I mean our traffic has still been pretty good since the draft but around Memorial Day weekend I’ll notice it start to dip. Then it gets into June and starts to recover in July.
Unless something crazy happens — probably the biggest offseason story was that Aaron Hernandez case. It’s now five years ago. That happened in late June. That drove everything through the roof for a couple of weeks because no one saw that story coming. I just happened to be home and not away at the time. I remember that one vividly. Without something crazy like that it’s a gradual, slow decline that then bottoms out around the 4th of July and starts to pick up not long after that.
Noe: How did you get involved in this business, working in print, radio, and TV?
Mike: The internet is the great equalizer where you can be anywhere in the world and have a voice. I was attracted to that immediately because I live in West Virginia and it gave me an avenue to have a platform and to be able to say things that people would be interested in. I first tripped over a website that was called NFLtalk.com in April of 2000. Back in those days I very rarely left the stuff that became available to you when you pop in the old AOL DVD or CD, whatever it was. They had content and I remember reading Sporting News content on there.
I found NFLtalk.com in a USA Today article and I started going there on a regular basis. One thing led to another. They were looking for writers and I thought, “Well, this would be kind of fun.” I threw something together and they hired me. Of course by hired, it means I did a bunch of work and didn’t get paid, but I didn’t care because it was a hobby. It was fun. I just always had this vague sense that if I do this, and I keep doing it, and work at it, maybe it’ll lead somewhere. Who knows where it’s going to lead, but either way it’s just kind of fun.
I remember having that conversation with my wife because I’d write two, three things a week. Then they’d have me do a little bit more and never paid me. I didn’t care. I was just like this is fun. I enjoy it and she says wait a minute. Why? I’d say I could go golf and I’d spend 50 bucks and be gone for four hours and be pissed off when I get home. So I just view it as a hobby. I’m here at the house and yeah we’re not making any money off of it, but I just have this weird feeling if I keep doing it, it leads somewhere good. That’s how I got into it.
Radio opportunities came from there because people we’re looking for NFLtalk.com writers to come on different shows. The first show I ever did was WGR 550 in Buffalo. I realized how potent sports talk radio was just from the standpoint of getting reps, getting better at it, understanding the medium, understanding how to make your point quickly, which I’m not doing today. One thing led to another and here we are 18 years later.
Noe: When you initially broke into radio, how long were you doing hits and sporadic shows before you got a full-time opportunity?
Mike: What happened was I was doing 10-to-15 minutes spots all over the country. I got to a point around 2006, 2007 where I started trying to get paid for them. I understood at one level it was valuable marketing for the website because people didn’t realize it was even an ad. It’s part of the regular content. They’re hearing the name of the website and hopefully they’re coming to it. I thought that part of it was great but I was doing so many. I thought I was decent at it and hoped that maybe I could start getting paid to do it.
I started by encouraging some of the different stations, “Look find a sponsor for the segment and basically let’s split the money.” I t was becoming a little bit of a profit center. It wasn’t until July of 2010, I used to do spots at Dan Patrick and I still do whenever he calls me, but I was doing them after he left ESPN and started his own show in 2007, 2008 time frame whenever that was.
I remember one time as his show started to take off on its own — they had the TV simulcast, 200+ stations and it’s doing very well — somebody called me middle of July in 2010 and said, “Hey, Dan’s out next week and they want to know if you can do the show.” I was like, “Yeah, have the fill-in host call me and just let me know what time, 9 to 12, whenever just let me know and we’ll work it out.” They were like, “No, no, no you’re the fill-in host.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s funny. That’s a good one, but just have the actual host call me.” They’re like, “No, Dan thinks you speak in sound bites and you understand how it works and he wants you to be the guest host.”
I’m like wait a minute. I don’t know how to do this. I have no training in this. All I do is answer questions when people call me up from the radio shows. I have no clue what to do. I remember being so stressed out about it. I remember having a full binder full of notes. I had every segment of a 12 segment, three-hour show planned out like there was no extemporaneous thought. It was all, “I’ll say this, this, this, and this in the first segment, and the second segment I’ll say this, this, and this.” It’s stupid but I didn’t know what to do.
After doing it one time — and it went fairly well — they called me the next time he was going to be off. They had me go to the studio in Milford, Connecticut with his guys. I remember being a nervous wreck about that. I remember having a stack of notes for that. It was idiotic but I didn’t know what else to do because I wasn’t thinking of it as this medium where you have an idea of what you’re going to say, but it’s very freeform and flowing and you just go.
After doing it enough times it just gets to the point where I told my wife the other day, you could just give me a microphone right now and say, “Oh, we’re doing a three-hour radio show, start right now,” because I understand how it works. Any given moment you start talking about whatever the top story is and then you go for seven or eight minutes and you have five or six minutes to regroup and figure out what you’re going to say next.
That’s where it started. I sat in for Dan somewhere between 30 and 40 times, maybe more than that I lost track. When an opportunity came up to have a show on NBC Sports Radio, by that point it was natural. It was obvious and I was ready to do it. It wasn’t a question of can I do it. It’s like well this is just the next logical progression.
Noe: What do you remember most about those first couple of shows when you were so nervous?
Mike: It’s like anything else, the more you do it the easier it gets. I remember the first time I did it, we had a hard break and I had no idea what a hard break was. I had no idea that not only was it mandatory you be done by then, you had to take it all the way to then. I thought you could just stop whenever. Well, if you stop a minute before a hard break, there’s going to be a minute of dead air before the news update takes over.
So I’m getting ready to throw it to break a minute before the hard break thing and hey, I saved some time. Good for me. Look I didn’t take the full time. I heard the engineer say, “Ahh, you have to keep going.” So I just completely froze. I was like, “Ahhhh, ooooo-kaaaay?” I got through it, but that was the most important aspect of on-the-job training. I had no idea that the hard break meant you talk up until the moment where the music stops and they go to the news update or whatever comes after the hard break. So, hard break 101 — don’t just stop talking when you feel like stopping.
Noe: (laughs) Yeah, that’s important. What did you learn either on your own or from someone else that you find the most valuable?
Mike: Well, nobody really taught me anything. It’s all self-taught because you watch and you listen and you learn. That’s how I became a decent writer — by reading and understanding how people communicate effectively in the written word. Picking up just the way of saying things. How to phrase a word in the active voice versus the passive voice. How to be concise and when not to be concise.
The same thing with radio, it’s just listening. I think I learned a lot from listening to Dan Patrick on how to aspire to be a good interviewer and how to try to have that conversational tone and get to a point where it just feels like two people shootin’ the breeze, not an interview per se. It’s just reps and reps and reps. The more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s always the key.
After so many shows, after so many interviews, and after so many times doing it, you feel like you get to a point where you understand it pretty well. Even after that I think you always strive to find ways to improve and ways to get better and not get complacent. I think the moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.
Noe: What’s the most enjoyable part about all of the jobs that you have?
Mike: I think the most enjoyable part of it is, none of it’s really work. Right? I’m getting paid to do stuff that I would do for free. I always add the caveat don’t tell anybody I said that cuz they’ll try to stop paying me. I like that what I do now has very little stress. There are moments of stress when you’re on TV on Football Night in America, but it’s nothing compared to practicing law, which I did for 18 years before I got out of it for good in July of 2009, really into early 2010. I kept a couple of cases once we joined NBC just a wrap them all up properly.
When you’re handling someone else’s interests and they have one chance at justice and you’re the one who’s trying to get it for them, and if you make a tactical error or say the wrong thing at the wrong time or whatever the case may be, there are consequences for them. Consequences for you too, you look like an idiot, but beyond that there are consequences for them. That’s so different than this. If I screw up something now, I’m the only one who looks like an idiot. I’m not making anyone else look bad.
It’s just a much more enjoyable way to exist because there’s so much less stress in what I do. Even the worst day. Even the day that feels like the biggest grind is still so much better than so many of the “normal days” I used to have when I was running around trying to handle 25, 30, 40, 50 cases at once and try to juggle everything and not screw everything up for anyone and everyone I represented.
Noe: Is there anything from your law background that you bring into print, radio, or TV in terms of the way you think or present things?
Mike: Yeah, I remember feeling horribly inadequate when I first started in the website business because you’re trying to be a “journalist” with absolutely no training or experience. A lot of it I picked up on the fly. I realized based upon all of the various legal issues that have come up in professional football — whether it’s players in trouble, whether it’s labor issues, whether it’s employee rights as they develop in this anthem controversy — I would feel ridiculously inadequate trying to do the job if I didn’t have a legal background.
Again plenty of journalists are doing the job without a legal background, but I assume that a lot of them have lawyers they talk to all the time in order to understand what this all means. A lot of the things that happen, I know right away what it means. I can explain here’s what it means and here’s where it goes from here. I can’t imagine being efficient if I had to contact somebody every time that there was a different case, a proceeding, whatever and trying to find out exactly what it all means.
Noe: Do you see that with the media? If you hear a sports talk host or you read something online — with the legal background you have, are there common mistakes made by other media members?
Mike: Yeah, it’s obvious when the person has absolutely no idea how it works. I think most of them just stay away from it. What’s the old adage, it’s better to remain quiet and be perceived a fool than open your mouth and confirm it. Where there are gaps — the person who’s writing it, the person who’s talking about it just doesn’t understand how it all works and what’s next. How do you expect them to if they haven’t lived that life, if they haven’t done it, if they haven’t handled cases like that or understand the system enough to say this is what it all means and this is where it goes from here.
It’s not that there are people who have no idea what happens next so they say something that’s wrong. It’s just you get to a point where there’s a gap and you feel like I need to know more here. I feel like I’m in a position where, especially in those situations, I can add more about where it goes next.
That’s what we try to do when we aggregate. We try to take what someone else has reported and analyze it and say here’s where it goes next. There are so many of those opportunities to apply that, here’s what it means in the NFL from a legal perspective whether it’s a legal proceeding, whether it’s a labor issue, whether it’s analyzing a contract. Again I don’t know how I would have done this job and I don’t know how people do the job without having the ability to take that stuff and interpret it and analyze it.
Noe: How much of your radio show is tied to the metrics of your website? You’re obviously going to lead with what’s hot, but if there is something that you think is interesting, but you just don’t see the reaction you anticipated online, do you say, “Well I’m not going to talk about it. It’s not hot.”
Mike: I’ve always been guided by what I’m interested in. I think if I’m interested in something then I hope that the audience is going to be interested in it. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s worked. I think part of it is, if you care about something and you have genuine interest in it then it spills through into how you handle it — how you write about it, how you talk about it. You talk about something you just don’t give a crap about, I think the audience senses that and they think, “Well if this guy doesn’t give a crap about it why should I?” That’s always been the guiding principle for me.
People talk about clickbait. It’s funny, to me clickbait is when you misrepresent to someone what a story is about so you will bait them to click on to it when they otherwise wouldn’t have. I think that a lot of what we do, we entice people to come read about the things that we have written. It is bait, but it’s real. It’s not phony. It’s not bait and switch. It’s, “Hey, come find out more about this.”
If you do a tease at the end of a segment to carry people over to the next segment and what you talk about isn’t really meshed with the tease, the people have a right to be pissed off. I think the same thing if you have a tweet or a headline. If what’s there doesn’t mesh, then they have the right to say that’s just clickbait.
You want people to keep listening to your show. You want people to read your work. I think the key is, frame it in an interesting way and choose things that are interesting and people remain engaged. That’s what we do. We provide the context and the framework for talking about the things that are interesting when it comes to sports and specifically for me when it comes to football.
Noe: Over the next 10 years, do you still want to keep doing exactly what you’re doing or would you like to move to another realm?
Mike: I don’t know what else is out there. I mean I like doing what I do. Things evolve, opportunities arise. In any field, in any industry, there’s value in promoting your own agenda. Having a list of, “This is what I want to do next, and then I want to do this, and I aspire to this, that, and the other thing.” For me that has never really worked. You aspire to climb a mountain and the next thing you know you’ve climbed a mountain that you didn’t even know was there.
I just do what I do. I’m guided by my sense of what I’m interested in. If opportunities arise as a result of that, then so be it. I don’t have any grand plan other than keep doing the things I like to do, pivot and change as necessary to meet the changing landscape of however it may change, but to keep doing what I do. Keep doing things I’m interested in and hope there are people out there who will be interested in it as well — whatever format it happens to be in — and keep trying to get better at everything that I do and everything else takes care of itself.
There’s a certain point where your track record gets you where you are. That’s the best reason and the best argument for continuing to do that because here I am 18 years later and it’s worked. So the next 10 years, the next 20 years, however many years I’m able to walk upright and think straight and articulate my thoughts, I’ll just keep doing what I do.
I remember one time my wife said, “You ever think about when you’ll retire?” It’s like retire from what? If I have enough money to take care of myself, my kid, and his kids for their entire lives and you just shut it down and do nothing, what would I do? I would do what I’m doing now. So there’s the answer. You just keep doing it and you just see where it all goes.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.