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Shaky Start For ESPN’s New Monday Night Football Crew

Jason Barrett

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It’s only week one, but if you were less than impressed by ESPN’s new Monday Night Football broadcast crew, you’re not alone. Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Anthony “Booger” McFarland made their regular season debut during Monday night’s Oakland Raiders-Los Angeles Rams game, and the results were less than spectacular. Granted, it’s a long season, and developing a rhythm and chemistry between three new teammates takes time. However, when you’re on a national broadcast as big as this one, patience is thin.

What surprised me the most was the trio’s lack of flow, fun, and passion. I read an article on Yahoo on Monday afternoon where Tessitore was quoted saying “people want access, they want unfiltered, they want non-corporate, they want raw” and I was encouraged. I agree with his assessment. But if you watched the game, where was the unfiltered? The non-corporate? Better yet, where was the fun and the raw powerful connection to what was transpiring on the field?

From a technical standpoint, Tessitore was fine. It wasn’t like he didn’t see or understand the game. But his calls of big game moments lacked punch, and the inconsistent flow between the broadcast’s three key voices often gets placed on the conductor’s shoulders. Joe certainly has a great voice, and has done excellent play by play work for a long time. I root for people who work their way up the ladder from Schenectady, NY to the NFL’s main stage. But whether I want them to do well or not, I still have to call it like I see it.

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Prior to his NFL arrival, Joe was a college football voice who you could count on to consistently deliver a quality broadcast. He didn’t earn the MNF opportunity by accident. But those college broadcasts don’t receive the same scrutiny that a Monday Night Football broadcast does. If you’re going to serve as the play by play announcer for ESPN’s flagship NFL property, then you have to be exceptional. Unfortunately on Monday Night, Joe was solid, not spectacular.

For example, when Marshawn Lynch powered past the Rams defense from the four yard line to the end zone, backed by an incredible effort from the Raiders O-Line, Tessitore said “Lynch, testing the middle, and getting a push, right thru. Effort play. Raiders score it.” If you watched that play as a fan you were likely much more moved by what you saw than what you heard. The play by play description didn’t match the passion felt by the viewer.

I heard the same thing when Cooper Kupp scored in the 3rd quarter to give the Rams the lead. But perhaps the most glaring omission was in the 4th quarter with the game winding down when Marcus Peters intercepted Derek Carr, and proceeded to grab his crotch while jumping into the end zone to mimic Marshawn Lynch as he scored. Tessitore failed to call that out, and point out the connection to Lynch. Instead the call was “Picked off. Marcus Peters. Strutting his stuff, and back splashing in. Pick six, Rams.”

Can you imagine Al Michaels, Jim Nantz or Joe Buck skimming past that? I can’t. The Rams twitter account was even on top of it. Before you counter with “but that’s unfair to compare him to those guys” let me remind you that this is Monday Night Football. This is ESPN’s most important NFL relationship. The announce team themselves acknowledged how different this night is from the others. If you’re going to call the elite game on the elite sports network, then you’ve got to deliver an elite performance.

Although I think Tessitore has to provide more flavor, take more control, and capture better what the audience is seeing and feeling, he wasn’t bad. In fact, I enjoyed him more than I had Sean McDonough who just didn’t mesh with Jon Gruden. I think Joe is going to be just fine. I’m not sure I can say the same for Jason Witten who simply wasn’t ready for this stage last night.

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There were times during Monday Night’s game when Witten was vacant from conversation for minutes at a time. His analysis for the most part was generic, his humor was absent, and as a viewer you were confused whether he was the #2 or #3. Fans grew frustrated on social media as the game continued and Booger McFarland’s activity increased, but ask yourself this “if Booger didn’t jump in, what exactly were you going to get out of Witten?” He was a deer in headlights far too often.

Where I was most disappointed with Witten is that he seemed to lack personality and passion. Maybe he was holding back. Maybe Tessitore didn’t set him up right. Maybe Booger’s involvement threw him off. Or maybe he just froze.

Even when Witten took a chance to say something strong (EX: Jon Gruden hasn’t had a franchise QB with the Raiders – except Witten ignored that Rich Gannon went to the Pro-Bowl during each of Gruden’s final 3 seasons in Oakland, threw for 11,000+ yards and 75 TD’s 34 INT’s during that 3-year stretch and won the MVP award after Gruden departed for Tampa), he missed the mark.

Nobody can force Jason to be someone he’s not, but he has to let the nation know who he is. Whether you’re known for being colorful, critical, the smart guy, the loud guy, the jokester or something else, personality is a vital part of an NFL broadcast. For all of the criticisms directed at Jon Gruden as an analyst for loving every player, we knew that trait about him. Grudenisms were understood because his personality allowed us to get a feel for who he was. There was none of that with Witten.

It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have a stellar track record of former players ascending to broadcast roles. Many felt Witten would make a smooth transition because of Tony Romo’s instant success as an NFL analyst on CBS. Couple that with Witten and Romo’s friendship, and the two men reportedly having superior knowledge and exceptional work habits, and you can see why so many were high on him becoming a great analyst.

But what isn’t known is how someone will perform when the lights are brightest. Witten may still turn out to be great, but his Game 1 performance left many questions. It’s up to ESPN now to find those answers.

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For Booger McFarland, I thought his energy and passion were stronger than Witten’s. His perspective on the sidelines was solid, and he wasn’t afraid to offer an opinion especially on the Khalil Mack trade which was a storyline surrounding the first Raiders game. He became too involved at times, but was that due to the crew sensing Witten wasn’t adding much? The viewing audience seemed to come away with the opinion that they heard too much from Booger and not enough from Witten. I don’t disagree.

I think Booger can do a better job of shortening his commentaries, because at times they went long. There were times where he also came across too serious. Some on social media even described him as angry. I’ve heard Booger’s personality before on radio, and seen it on TV, so as the season plays out I think he’ll find more ways to lighten up. The man doesn’t lack personality.

One part of the broadcast which stood out in positive fashion, and further highlighted the difference in skill was the halftime performance. When Louis Riddick and Steve Young talk football, it’s so damn good. Young previously declined pursuing the MNF analyst job, but Riddick openly acknowledged having interest in it. If he was bypassed because of concerns of being hired in the future as an NFL GM, I get it. If it’s for any other reason, I’d love to hear it. Few at ESPN ooze the passion, insight, and knowledge for the game of football that he does. As I listened to him on the pre, post, and halftime shows, I kept asking myself “how is this guy not in the booth?”

When it comes to the NFL we all tend to overreact. It’s common to put a team in the Super Bowl and another at the top of the draft after Week 1, so in a way I feel like I’m doing that with a new broadcast team which is trying to find itself. If the worst thing we have to say at the end of the season about this crew is that their 1st week performance was subpar, that would indicate they made progress. That’s what I’m hoping for. But the way they settle into their roles, connect to the audience, and respond to a rough start will determine how supportive ESPN remains in the future.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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