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Soren Petro Tells Us What’s Going On In Kansas City

” The Chiefs are bigger now than they’ve ever been and it’s because of one guy and the expectations surrounding him. We’ve never been like this, but I think you can do a show, even out of season, that’s 90 percent Chiefs.”

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Soren Petro has seen just about everything the Kansas City sports scene has to offer. A longtime host, who was even a part of the first sports radio show KC had ever heard in the early 90’s, Petro’s opinions on the teams in town have been heard for the better part of two decades. But as much as he’s seen, it’s an interesting time right now for sports talk in Kansas City.

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Excluding Patrick Mahomes, two of the biggest names in the area have found themselves surrounded in controversy. Bill Self, head basketball coach at the University of Kansas, and his knowledge of the FBI investigation that has rocked college hoops has been a huge local story. The other big one is Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill after he was investigated by police for an alleged battery that he has still not been charged with. 

They may help with content, but both of these stories still have a relative amount of unknown information and anything new can be hard to come by. This can make it tough for a host. So how has Soren approached this unique time for the Kansas City market? The proud Syracuse grad and host of The Program on Sports Radio 810 shared his thoughts. 

                                       Handling Controversy

TM: We haven’t heard any more on Tyreek Hill in like three weeks. How are you talking about this story when there’s been no new information?

SP: The Tyreek Hill story is interesting but there’s really not much to say. It gets brought up as, hey, let’s talk about NFL Draft, wide receiver is something they might need because we’re still unsure about Tyreek Hill.

Image result for tyreek hill

From the standpoint of the story being an unknown, it’s a topic because of the Draft and the Chiefs offseason is a very big part of our conversations. But as far as talking about the standpoint of him going to jail, not going to jail, or if he’s going to get released, that’s in a holding pattern right now.

I do think that as every day goes by, it’s more likely he’s going to be a member of the Chiefs. I think if something obvious was there, we’d know and a decision would have been made. In terms of the story, we update it around the Chiefs conversations we have, but for the most part, if you’re one that say you know what’s going on with the story, you better or you’re just lying.

TM: Are the conversations about Tyreek Hill like: Hey, let’s pretend he’s on the team, who are they going to draft? Or, hey he’s not on the team what do you do now?

SP: Yeah, he was just such a lightning rod topic when they took him in the 5th Round three years ago. That dominated the talk about the time and it just re-ignites the conversation.

By all accounts, he was doing everything he was asked to do, in terms of counseling and being the model teammate, so there was a feeling those problems were in the rearview mirror. It’s one of those topics that isn’t just a sports radio topic, its real life. That gives everyone a chance to have an opinion. It’s an all-encompassing topic, but it’s just at a weird time so you’re in a holding pattern, trying to make some context to what hearing nothing exactly means.

TM: The way you’ve approached the Tyreek Hill story, is it similar to the way you’ve approached the Bill Self story? 

SP: Yes and no. In some ways, yes, there’s things we don’t know. The difference is that this story while Bill Self is having to be in front of the media on a regular basis. He had to answer questions after each game, he had to answer questions on the Big 12 conference call and had to his radio show. From that standpoint, you were always able to get comments from the ultimate decision maker.

Image result for bill self press conference

First, we hear KU’s name mentioned with the story, then we hear there’s a trial, then we get the trial and everything that was submitted with it, so there was always new info coming out to where you had new questions for Bill Self to answer.

The NFL is about as closed down as you could possibly be in season. Out of season, you wouldn’t even know the organization exists in the town. They just go away, so there’s nobody to speak to and all you get is a statement from the team. Self was actually up there answering questions.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Chiefs talk is as hot as it’s ever been in Kansas City. With the best young quarterback in the game, leading the most exciting offense in the league, if you’re not dedicating a whole lot of time to the Chiefs, you’re doing your show a massive disservice.

But KC isn’t just an NFL town. It’s been a baseball town with the Royals winning the World Series in 2015. It has a strong college basketball presence with a blue blood program being just 45 minutes down the road in Lawrence. It also has strong college football interests with local teams such as KU, K-State and Mizzou competing in the Big 12 and SEC. Nobody who has any sense about sports radio would argue that the Chiefs aren’t the No. 1 story in town, even in the offseason, but what’s the balance? 

                                   Managing a Balance

TM: It’s the NFL off season right now, but the draft is quickly approaching. What’s the balance between hitting Chiefs talk along with everything else going on?

SP: I would say the Chiefs moved to the No. 1 story in town the night they drafted Patrick Mahomes and it’s been that way ever since. Each step of his career has been a massive story from when he got picked, when he first got to play and then when he eventually became the starter.

I’ve been doing sports talk long enough to remember when the Chiefs came back to prevalence in the early 90’s. They were the dead franchise and the Royals were all the conversation. The Chiefs are bigger now than they’ve ever been and it’s because of one guy and the expectations surrounding him. We’ve never been like this, but I think you can do a show, even out of season, that’s 90 percent Chiefs.

You’re not going to upset anyone right now by doing it, but you do have to find a balance. If you’re doing two hour show, you’re going to play the hits, so you’re going to hit more Chiefs. If you do four hours, like I do, we’re doing at least one hour of Chiefs every day and some days even more. Recently, the Chiefs have been 50 percent of our conversation and the other teams have filled in the rest.

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I’ve never been a big believer in golf talk on a show. Not only do I think interest for the sport has significantly fallen off, it’s just not as easy subject to make interesting on the radio.

I can understand the importance of The Masters and the storylines that surround it, so I know talking about it this week makes sense. So, with Tiger Woods shooting for his first major since Elin Nordegren chased him out of his house with a golf club in 2009, do you commit a lot of time to the tournament if you have other relevant stories in your market?

Covering the Masters

TM: First, would you say you’re a golf fan?

SP: No, I watch the four majors, but I’m not the one at the station breaking down different swings, identifying the up and comers or anything like that. That’s just not really me.

TM: How much time will you commit to The Masters? 

SP: Our afternoon guy has a cool tradition. He goes to a certain bar and restaurant in town that has three locations in town. They do a remote on Thursday there and at a different one on Friday. They do all these specials and they’ve become the spot to go and watch The Masters. They kind of take over his show with it, so it’s a little bit different in my view.

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One, I’m not the golf expert and I never try to be something I’m not. When I know we’re going to be pumping four hours of golf in the afternoon on Thursday and Friday, I feel like it’s my job to service everything else that’s going on. We have the leaderboard updates with Westwood One, so it’ll get mentions along with if something just really big ends up happening.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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