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Debbie Spander Thought The Talent Deserved Better

“I was seeing a lot of great talent signing deals that favored the networks. I thought a lot of them deserved better.”

Jack Ferris

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Leaders have a way of impacting those around them – even when it’s not fully intentional.  It’s just in their DNA.  Their influence is a force of nature.  It’s inevitable.  

You can use a lot of words to describe Debbie Spander, and “inevitable” is certainly one of them. Look no further than the fanhood of the media executive’s 10 year old daughter Rebecca.  Her father’s allegiances lie with his native Chicago, her mother’s with Bay Area franchises.

“My husband would always say ‘she’s growing up in Los Angeles, let her be a fan of whoever she wants to be a fan of,'” explains the Wasserman Media Group’s Senior Vice President through an audible grin.

“But she was 1, 3, and 5 when the Giants were making their runs,” Spander declares as if to wash her hands of any wrongdoing.  “It kind of stuck.  She’s pretty much a Bay Area sports fan.”

Traditionally, hereditary fanhood is passed down paternally. Traditionally, the sports media management world is a male dominated industry. But spend a little time with Debbie Spander and you’ll soon understand she’s not one to let much stand in her way – especially not tradition.

Ironically, Spander’s love of sports was in fact passed down through her father.  Art Spander is an iconic Bay Area sportswriter – a man who has earned a number of accolades, including an NFL Hall of Fame induction in 2007.  

“I always knew I wanted to work in sports – but I didn’t want to completely follow my dad’s path,” Spander remembers.  “His lifestyle was hard, on the road all the time, the long hours.  I wanted to pursue sports but not writing.”

Naturally, Spander immediately went to work for the Stanford Daily once she became a Cardinal in the late 80s.  Ask her why she chose to write in college with no real intention of pursuing the field after school and she’ll admit she just couldn’t help herself.   

Debbie reflects fondly on her brief but exhilarating writing career.  She seems to remember every detail of Stanford’s thrilling 36-31 victory over #1 Notre Dame in October of 1990.  

“Denny Green came off the field yelling ‘Here Comes the God Damn Stanford Cardinal!'” She exclaims with no shortage of nostalgia. “That’s how I opened my piece!”

After graduating from Stanford in 1991 Spander eventually found herself working at the sports agency Steinberg and Moorad.  It was here (under Leigh Steinberg, widely credited as the inspiration behind Jerry Maguire) Debbie knew her future was in sports business.  She looked around at the people she admired and the one thing they all had in common was a law degree.  There weren’t a lot of women in the corner offices or running the conference calls, but that didn’t bother her.  

Debbie eventually chose UCLA for law school, partly because it was the alma mater of her father, but mostly because Westwood made a lot of sense economically.

“I was able to get into a few schools on the east coast – like Penn and Georgetown – but UCLA was just $3,000 at the time, so I was able to scrap up the cash I had earned since graduation and pay my way through!”

On the other side of Law School, it wasn’t long before the young attorney’s experience led her to a position with Fox Sports where she was an integral part of the company’s fluid expansion to Regional Sports Networks.  She found herself hiring dozens of anchors and reporters for markets across the country as well as studio programming for the parent network.  

“It was a lot – but I had the opportunity to meet so much great young talent.  I’m still in contact with a lot of people I hired back then.”

By the early 2000s, Spander’s network was nationwide and growing just about everyday.  She was happy with her position on the network side of sports television but couldn’t help but imagine life on the otherside – representing the talented men and women she had been hiring for years.  

The switch from network lawyer to agent?  Not exactly traditional.  In fact, there’s a number of examples of executives going the other direction.  This didn’t much bother Debbie, in fact she saw it as an asset.  

“I was seeing a lot of great talent signing deals that favored the networks.  I thought a lot of them deserved better.”

That desire to fight for the client’s best interest served Spander well and she gathered plenty of momentum as an agent.  In 2012, she found a home with Wasserman Media Group as Vice President of their broadcast department before ascending to her current role as Senior Vice President in 2016.  

Spander’s client list is extensive and spans from NBA benches to anchor desks and just about every stop in between.  It’s easy to see how she’s attained her success when you ask her about one of those clients.  Any client. She has a deep understanding of who they are as a person and more importantly where they want to be professionally.

She’s not one to tell anyone what they can or can’t do – she herself is proof you can shatter whatever glass ceiling you think might be hovering above.  She does, however, understand any career advancement takes hard work.

“Like anything, to succeed in media takes time, it takes reps.  It’s the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour rule.”

Spander isn’t your traditional sports agent – and her official title reflects that.  The SVP of Broadcasting and Coaching feels more like a mentor than a legal representative when she describes her job.  She has no problem going to bat for her clients when it comes to contract negotiations, but above all she wants them to grow and feel fulfilled in whatever position they find themselves. 

That may not be the traditional portrait of a slick sports agent, but that’s not Debbie Spander.  

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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