Thanksgiving week is a big one in the world of college football. It’s rivalry week! The Iron Bowl, The Apple Cup, The Game. These are all names that mean something to college football fans, and they are all the names of games being played this week.
We’re celebrating here at BSM with a series of three articles written by Demetri Ravanos, the company’s resident college football fanatic. These articles highlight some of the interesting, “insider-y” aspects of following the sport.
For the second piece in our series, Demetri looks at the future of the SEC Network. He took a trip to the Charlotte, NC headquarters to talk with talent and executives about how the network has evolved since its inception and what they see as possibilities for its future.
If you don’t live within the geographical footprint or didn’t attend a school that is a member of the Southeastern Conference, chances are you’ve never given the SEC Network much of a look. Maybe you think all the network has to offer is SEC football and replays of SEC football. Look, I get it. That’s the stereotype and stereotypes don’t just come from nowhere, but you’re wrong about what the network is.
Sure, the programming is built around the conference’s sports culture. Live events from every sport, replays of those events, the Paul Finebaum Show, documentaries about the conference’s history. The network has plenty of all of it.
But in 2018 the SEC Network debuted a new show called TrueSouth. It’s a travel show, but it’s a travel show the way Anthony Bourdain used to do travel shows. Host John T. Edge visits some of the conference footprint’s hotbeds of food and culture and asks people to feed him and tell him a story.
I love this show. I am a Greek kid that grew up in Alabama with a chef for a father, so the first episode, which told the story of Birmingham’s Greek community and the restaurants they opened or inherited from their parents, had me in tears. My wife, who could care less about anything involving the University of Alabama, despite it being my alma matter, loves this show. It was something we could watch together every week.
TrueSouth may not have been the beginning of the SEC Network taking a look at the geography it primarily serves and saying “what can we do for these people that goes beyond sports?” but it is the furthest deviation from sports you’ll ever see on a conference network. Even Big Ten Network’s Campus Eats is built around the schools that make up the conference. TrueSouth visits multiple cities that are miles away from an SEC campus in its first season.
What the network is doing, or maybe trying to do, caught my attention, so I went down to Charlotte last month to chat with some of the talent and executives that made the network what it is. I wanted to know what their vision of the future was for the SEC Network. Did any of them see a day where SEC sports was just part of what they do?
Chris Turner, The SEC Network’s Vice President of Programming, and I met in a conference room at the network’s headquarters on a day that a new email system had just been implemented. Amanda Brooks, the network’s head of PR and my guide for the day, along with Turner talked about how hard it has been to receive any office memos on their phones.
I told Chris about the idea behind my article and asked him how far the boundaries can be pushed in terms of what programming is appropriate for the SEC Network. We started at TrueSouth in particular.
“Last year, really as much as anything, after having a few years under our belt, we put a real emphasis on story telling. So (TrueSouth) is an extension of that and taking a look at…you know, you sample other networks. We sample other networks, and what resonates with you when you’re sampling those other networks? What catches your attention? What do you lock in on? Great storytelling,” he says.
I asked him if anything with a good story and a Southern accent would be fair game. Turner’s answer seemed like a long way of saying “maybe.”
“I think at some level you still have to understand what your fan base is, and ultimately that’s how we view it, as how we do anything at ESPN and the SEC Network, is how are we serving our fans? That’s really how we measure everything.
And so whatever it might be, whatever the next big idea might be it’s going to be measured up against that. This is who are fans. This is who we see our fan group to be and how are we serving them.”
When I asked him if that meant we could see reruns of Designing Women or another sitcom set in the Southeast show up in the middle of the day on his network he laughed. “That one’s a new one. I don’t know that we’ve ever had that idea for something that just distinctly fits the Southern Culture like that.”
Turner then looked at Brooks as if to silently say “make a note of that just in case” and then told me that something like that is probably too much of a culture shock to the SEC Network’s most loyal viewers. Reruns will probably always be best left to TV land.
If there is a face of the SEC Network, it is almost certainly Paul Finebaum. The radio host and ringmaster of the circus of college football absurdity that is his radio and TV simulcast was the first person hired to be a part of the SEC Network. He moved from Birmingham to be a part of the network, but not without needing some coaxing. “Well, I really didn’t know what was going to happen when they came to me,” he tells me between sips of his pumpkin spice smoothie. “The reason that I didn’t immediately say yes was because I really wondered if you could move what we have now in Alabama, which was pretty special and try to broaden it and specialize it to so many different schools and interests. I had a lot of people that said that I was making a mistake.”
There is no doubt that Finebaum’s style has changed since making the move to Charlotte. You might not know this if you didn’t live in a particular corner of the Southeast in the early part of this century, but there was a time when no one was hated more intensely by Alabama fans than Paul Finebaum. The version of the show that airs now features Finebaum curating the opinions. Paul isn’t afraid to share what he knows or thinks, but for the most part he is trying to move from one entertaining caller to the next. His own opinions, most of which were about the absolute disarray Alabama football was in the ten years between Gene Stallings left Tuscaloosa and Nick Saban came to town, drove the show when he was based in Birmingham. In hindsight, many of those opinions were more than fair, but try being the guy based in Birmingham telling Alabama fans that their beloved football team wasn’t the be-all-end-all of the college football universe.
“I got death threats early in my career. My phone has been tapped. Probably the scariest wasn’t that long ago, maybe about ten years ago, someone posted on Twitter a Google Earth photo of my house. We were living in Birmingham at the time. Underneath it they wrote ‘You will die Saturday night.’ So I turned it over to the state. Law enforcement got involved and they were able to trace it. They asked if I wanted to press charges and I said no. That’s the last thing I need is to tick this guy off even more and then have the charges not stick.”
He seemed to notice my look of disbelief and simply responded with “I mean, those things happen.” He then quickly followed that up by noting that moving to a national platform has probably made him safer. “As expansive as the show has become I probably think about those things less and less.”
Finebaum has played a roll in the SEC Network branching out beyond sports. In September, the network debuted his interview series Homecoming. The show features captains of industry, the arts, and politics returning to their SEC alma matters to talk about their careers and their future. The first episode featured Auburn alum and Apple CEO Tim Cook. The second episode featured author John Grisham, who has a BS from Mississippi State and a law degree from Ole Miss.
“The concept started with Stephanie Druley, who is a Senior VP at ESPN. She had the idea for the show. Originally it was broader and then we narrowed it to the SEC,” he tells me of Homecoming’s genesis. “She said ‘well, anyone in the world that you could interview, who would it be?’ and I thought ‘probably Pope Francis.’ Then we realized he didn’t go to an SEC school.”
Another of the network’s initial hires was Greg McElroy. The former Alabama quarterback was on the bench in Cincinnati when the network was forming. McElroy, who was 25 at the time, was already thinking about ending his playing career.
“I’m just more fulfilled by discussing [college football] than chasing something that might be unattainable,” he says of his decision to walk away from the NFL and head to the broadcast booth. “I want to do this forever, you know? I wanted this for a long time and I felt like this had more longevity and it was actually a really easy decision for me to make.”
McElroy calls games for ABC and ESPN, but during the week you’ll find him wandering the halls in Charlotte between taping segments of Thinking Out Loud, the show he hosts with former LSU defensive tackle Marcus Spears and SEC Network newcomer Alyssa Lang. The show spun off from McElroy’s and Spears’s appearances on the first year of SEC Now.
“They just they saw the chemistry. Me and Gregg are idiots,” Spears says. “That’s really what it boils down to. We love college football. We know a lot about what we’re talking about. But at the same time, our personalities kind of are so different that it works perfectly.”
Thinking Out Loud is a hard show to describe. There are real hard core breakdowns of the games that happened just 48 hours before taping, but there is also a sense of humor to it. I visited during the week of Halloween and caught the entire cast in costume as KISS – makeup and all. Earlier in the day, Spears and McElroy put on fake mustaches and taped a bit where they played HR directors.
It’s the kind of show that may live in the SEC world for now, but McElroy hopes he and Spears get the chance to spread their wings. He tells me that he is a die hard Dodgers fan and has always loved the NBA and he would love to bring that to the show someday. I asked him if he could ever see Thinking Out Loud becoming a part of the weekday afternoon block on ESPN.
“Well, I don’t think any of us would ever do a show that we didn’t have high hopes for, and you know, I don’t think any of us would ever go halfway into a show,” he says. “We’re all the way in on Thinking Out Loud and the SEC Network is too.” He chooses his words carefully before he realizes that he isn’t saying anything that can get him into trouble. “We are so grateful to everyone at SEC Network for the resources and the platform that they give us and we’ll always be true to our roots. No denying that, but I think we’d all like to see this show grow as high as it can grow.”
Staying true to their roots seems to play an important role for everyone involved with Thinking Out Loud. Marcus Spears didn’t just play football at LSU. He grew up in Baton Rouge. It isn’t lost on him how much having something like the SEC Network means to the kids that make it onto an SEC field or court after years of dreaming about it.
“It gives them their own. It’s like the NFL Network for the Southeast, because before all of these teams had to force coverage, or you had to have a story before ESPN would talk about you day in and day out. Now we do features on Vanderbilt. We do spring tour stops in Kentucky and Tennessee…It’s a reciprocating thing. They provide the games and we tell their stories.”
For Alyssa Lang, an alum of the University of South Carolina, this is a dream job. “I mean, I remember when the network launched and I was just like ‘Wow, there’s a building that you can go work at and talk nothing but SEC football and SEC sports? I absolutely want to be there,'” she tells me. “I mean it’s still kind of surreal to me sometimes when I walk in here.”
I tell Lang about TrueSouth sort of sparking my interest to come down and visit and write about the network. Her eyes light up. I ask her if I have discovered a dream job within a dream job for her. “Oh my God! If they asked me to be on TrueSouth and help with eating food from the South, are you kidding?” she responds.
If you’re looking for a show that may capture what the SEC Network can be in the future, look no further than Marty & McGee. Marty Smith and Ryan McGee are about as Southern as you can get. The set for their show looks like a man cave straight out of the Deep South. They call it The Wilderness Lodge after the hotel in Disney World. The faux wood cabin set was a hit with coaches at SEC Media Days in Atlanta this summer.
Beyond just the decorations, which Smith describes as “a bunch of roosters and American flags,” the show is built around stories from Smith’s and McGee’s travels, jokes about their past covering NASCAR, and their signature bit “Hillbilly Headlines.” The day I am on set, we watch a video of a man falling shirtless through the roof of a Waffle House and looking for someone to fight. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is a guest on the show that day.
There’s range there, and McGee tells me it is no mistake. “Maybe you’re watching for Hillbilly Headlines and you learn a little something about Jake Fromm or maybe you’re watching for Jake Fromm and you learn a little something about how to sculpt things out of moose turds.”
Marty & McGee isn’t so much a show as it is a party that plays out in front of cameras. These are two best friends that started out by making each other laugh on the road to NASCAR events. That turned into a podcast, which turned into a radio show, which is now a TV show. The show’s production crew is encouraged to hoot, holler, and shout things out while the show is taping.
As I’m visiting (or “fellowshipping” as Smith calls it) with the duo, they talk about the disappointing state of NASCAR media. These two were motorsports reporters long before SEC football came into their professional lives. Now, they lament the sport’s inability to garner the coverage they feel it deserves. I ask them if given the crossover of fan bases, they could ever see themselves talking NASCAR in a serious way on the SEC Network.
“I think if we wanted to right now you could talk about NASCAR on this show,” Smith says confidently. “And I say that for a couple reasons. Number one, the demo absolutely works and number two, (SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey) is a huge race fan.”
Smith and McGee are huge fans of the direction the SEC Network is moving. Smith calls TrueSouth “a beautiful show.” McGee is clearly in awe of what Finebaum does on Homecoming.
“I love that series that Paul did where he’s doing these kind of Barbara Walters interviews with you know, Tim Cook,” he says as he takes out his iPhone. “I don’t think people understood that the guy that you know is in charge of all of this is War Eagle, right? I don’t think people know Tennessee’s got like a half a dozen astronauts. I like the fact that they’re branching out into the culture of it.”
Smith adds “I think it’s important to do that because it’s an avenue, and this is feedback that (Ryan) and I get everywhere we go now because of this show. It’s an avenue for folks who grew up in the South, and most notably the rural South, to feel like they have a voice. I’m so proud to be someone they consider to be a voice.”
McGee agrees. “And we also have an opportunity to portray those people for what they actually are and they’re not cartoon characters.”
So what is the next step in the evolution of the SEC Network? I told Chris Turner that it seemed like the next TrueSouth should probably tackle the ever changing music scene of the region. After all, three of the most buzzed about music acts around right now – Jason Isbell, The Alabama Shakes, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones are all Alabama fans. One of the biggest country music stars in the world, Kenny Chesney is a Tennessee die hard. Jack White, who is from Detroit originally now lives in Nashville and was a huge fan of Cam Newton while he was at Auburn.
“Music has been an important part of our network from the beginning with our ‘Take it All in’ campaign,” Turner says. “Our marketing team has done a fantastic job day in and day out with the music theme across the board. Every spot we run, every promo has a unique musical footprint to it, so that will continue to be important to us. Can we develop that into a show like TrueSouth? I don’t know. It remains to be seen, but I don’t disagree with you. It seems like the natural extension.”
Marty and McGee joke about the old days of Turner South and TNN and how those networks would go from a morning show produced by Southern Living magazine to professional wrestling to NASCAR in the same day. It doesn’t seem like that kind of extreme variety is on the horizon for the SEC Network, but Turner and his staff are thinking beyond college sports, and in the world of conference networks, that makes them an outlier and a trendsetter.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”
It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.
Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.
Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.
“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”
From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.
“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”
Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.
Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.
“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”
Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.
Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.
During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.
Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.
With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.
“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”
Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.
“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”
After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.
“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”
An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.
Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.
“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”
Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.
“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”
Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”
Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.
“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”
John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.
“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”
The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.
“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”
Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.
“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”
As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.
“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”
Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.
“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”
Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.
“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio
All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.
The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.
Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.
McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.
As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.
A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.
Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.
At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.
It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Ideas For December Sales Success
How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?
Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.
So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.
Cutting a year-end deal
Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.
Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.
Beat the bushes
Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.
From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.
Practice a new pitch
December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.