Before the ballparks fill up, before the microphones go on and before the lineups are given, your team’s broadcaster has been hard at work. Probably for a few hours. A casual fan probably would say, “that can’t be, don’t they just show up a few minutes before the game and broadcast?”. Wrong!
Any play-by-play broadcaster worth his or her salt is busy several hours before the action starts. Prep, as it’s known in the business, is the key to a good, informative, interesting and entertaining call.
“Prep is the foundation of play-by-play. Whether it’s talking to players & coaches in the clubhouse or during BP, calling high school football coaches for info a few days before you broadcast their game or updating statistics & biographical information during the off-season or whenever you learn something new.”, says Robert Ford the radio voice of the Houston Astros, who is in his 7th season with the club.
“I view it as continuing education; I’m always learning & looking for more information about teams, players, coaches, managers, even umpires. The better prepared you are (& the better you get at compiling information in such a way that it’s easy to find & at your fingertips), the better the broadcast will sound.”, said Ford.
If you think this is a new process or requirement, think again. Jack Corrigan now in his 17th season of calling Rockies games on KOA knows exactly how important prep is. “Preparation remains paramount for a play-by-play broadcaster. No matter how many years you’ve been doing this (34 in baseball for me) never assume that a game can be covered solely on your experience. It is such a part of the daily rhythm of the job. It would feel too strange not to have it in my routine.”
There is no one way to prep for a baseball broadcast. It is a personal process for most, that develops over time. It’s up to each individual how to present the information and what information gets presented. Baseball is filled with numbers, stats and tons of information provided by the team. From all of that, you have to decide what is important to your listening audience. It’s not an easy process, but one that is critical to a broadcast.
Remember there is no right way or wrong way to do this, but there are differences among broadcasters.
“Because I’ve been blessed to be in the game for a long time, I tend to focus my prep on areas less obvious. A personal angle on a player or players becomes the perfect way to humanize the game beyond the numbers,” the veteran Corrigan says. “The audience remains a mixture of fans in terms of their interest. You must be able to keep the casual listener with you by offering something personal to keep them from being overwhelmed by the statistical/strategic information that the hardcore fan seeks. I enjoy the pursuit of something beyond the obvious, beyond the headlines.”
The way the game is trending, younger broadcasters go about things a bit differently. Ford breaks down what he focuses on before a game.
“Pre-game, I try to focus more on what’s happening right now. I mark up my stat sheet with notes on hot/cold hitters & relievers, & fill my OneNote (Microsoft program/app) with daily team info & news.”, said Ford. “I’ll usually circle the clubhouse to see if there’s anyone I want to talk to or ask something about a previous game, or to confirm any notes I may have read elsewhere. I usually go to the pre-game press conferences held by both managers to glean more information. If I know the opposing manager well, I may ask him something one-on-one, before or after he talks to the media. Sometimes, I will go into the opposing team’s clubhouse to talk to a player or two, particularly if it’s someone local from Houston, or someone who previously played for the Astros.”
I know my routine has changed over the years and has become a little more streamlined. I had a great mentor in my early career, Pat Hughes, the Cubs’ play-by-play announcer for the last 24 seasons, taught me a lot. He is meticulous in his pregame prep. He has folder upon folder with information on baseball history as it relates to the Cubs and in general. More importantly he is a fountain of baseball knowledge and a student of the game. I’m lucky to have learned under him.
Corrigan learned early from some of baseball’s great announcers as well.
“I was fortunate in that my early years in baseball were spent with Joe Tait, the Hall of Fame basketball broadcaster who was also a terrific baseball man, and Herb Score. Joe led by example in simple things like the arrangement of your workspace, proper timing for when to do what at a particular moment, the understanding of how much information was required, even when much of it won’t be used because of how the game’s storyline played out.”, said Corrigan. “It sounds a little funny, but from Herb I learned how to listen. As a former player that might’ve been one of the all-time great pitchers if not for an injury from a line drive to the face, he was a great source of information regarding the game from a player’s perspective. When Herb had some comment about strategy or a player’s approach, it made great sense to pay attention. Both men also taught me how almost as much can be gained from hanging around scouts in the press dining room as it can behind the batting cage.”
Ford’s routine is more of a work in progress, “In some ways, I feel like it’s still developing; I usually tweak a few things every year. It really started for me in 2002, when I was calling games for the Yakima (WA) Bears in the short-season Northwest League. Going into the year, I had no idea how to prepare for a broadcast. But each day I fiddled with my routine & preparation until I got to a point where I felt I was comfortable with my routine & felt prepared going into every game.”
The technology age has really changed things for some broadcasters. Those that have climbed aboard that train find things are a little easier in putting together notes and stats. In Ford’s second season with the Astros, he purchased an iPad Mini and used the One Note App to streamline his process. “Before that, I kept mini loose-leaf binders with pages on every player, manager & team. Going digital cut down on my prep time, particularly in the baseball off-season, & gave me more time to process & synthesize all the information that’s thrown my way on a daily basis during the season.”, said Ford.
The internet not only changed things for broadcasters and how they prepare, but also for the fan and what they know. There’s so much information out there. Multiple places to get the information on news and analytics puts some pressure on the guys calling the games.
“You must be well-versed in your own right to maintain credibility.”, says Corrigan. “I think there is a need to talk in more detail about the entire industry. The team you cover is still paramount in your approach, but you also need to be able to discuss what’s happening elsewhere in the game, too.”
What’s important for young broadcasters to realize is that doing play-by-play at a high level requires a lot of hard work. What’s important for the fans is to realize what goes into the broadcast and putting it together. Appreciate it and understand that all the hard work is really for you.
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.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 75
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.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts 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.
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.
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.