It was October of 2016 when Grant Liffmann was struck with an idea. It was a thought he hadn’t totally fleshed out, but he knew there was one person who could help him put it together – his best friend Drew Shiller.
“I remember I called Drew and the first thing I said was ‘I have an idea, don’t hang up!'” Liffmann pauses and glances sideways at Shiller.
“I’m not even sure why I opened with that?”
“I think it’s because you would always call about movie ideas,” Drew replies without skipping a beat.
On a beautiful San Francisco rooftop, the two are sitting side by side on an unseasonably warm November day. In a matter of hours, Shiller and Liffmann will be sharing their thoughts on the impending Warriors-Mavericks game on NBC Sports Bay Area. The sight of Drew and Grant shoulder to shoulder – draped in Warriors gear – has become a very familiar view for sports fans in Northern California. Their undeniable chemistry and rhythm, even in casual conversation, hasn’t just earned them popularity in San Francisco – it’s shifted the way Regional Sports Networks operate.
Just about everything can be traced back to that late 2016 phone call.
At the time, Grant was 29 and pursuing a career in Hollywood.
Liffmann never saw himself as an actor growing up, but a couple friends at Cal gave him the idea while at school. After graduating in 2009, the Berkeley Golden Bear had the audacity to move in with members of the Stanford basketball team in Palo Alto. His Burlingame High School buddy Shiller was headed into his red shirt senior season with the Cardinal and offered up a spare room. While his housemates attended practice and class, Grant had to deal with the real world. A year of commuting to San Francisco up and down the peninsula Monday through Friday was enough to convince Liffmann the 9-5 life wasn’t for him – cue the move to Southern California.
“I was never a waiter,” clarifies Liffmann, as if to distinguish himself from the aspiring LA actor stereotype.
He was able to find work with Sony doing everything from ad sales to distribution. In his spare time he was auditioning and appearing in USC grad school films. Of course, living and working in Los Angeles, you’re bound to rub elbows with celebrities from time to time. In Grant’s case – literally.
Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is headquartered on the Sony lot, as is his personal basketball court; Happy Madison Square Garden. Whenever the Sandman needed some bodies for a run, Grant would get the call.
“He’s a pretty dirty player,” Grant recalls. “I walked away from a pickup game once with a black eye.”
“Did you ever call him out on that?” Asks Drew genuinely.
Grant’s head tilts slightly while squinting his eyes at Drew.
By late 2016 and the aforementioned phone call, Liffmann was making progress in Hollywood, but he couldn’t get past a new idea that would ultimately alter his life forever. It was the dawn of the NBA season, and both he and Drew were giddy about Kevin Durant joining their beloved Warriors, but Grant wasn’t calling to breakdown Xs and Os.
“I just felt like there was a hole in sports broadcasting. Everything was always a suit and a desk. I thought there was room for something new.”
In the years since the roommates parted ways in 2010, Shiller had put himself in an ideal place to receive Grant’s idea.
Straight out of Stanford in 2010, the former guard underwent hip surgery, effectively ending any shot at a career overseas. Fortunately, the color analyst position for Stanford radio opened up that season, giving Shiller his first on air experience. It was June of 2011 when Drew accepted a full time Digital Producer position at what was then Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
A year later, Shiller found more opportunities in the studio with the newly launched PAC-12 Networks and a radio gig with the Santa Cruz Warriors. Meanwhile, CSN Bay Area would toss their Digital Producer on TV anytime the rundown called for a college hoops discussion. Just a few years removed from his playing days on the Farm, Drew was slowly establishing himself as a go-to Bay Area hoops analyst – as long as you weren’t talking NBA.
Getting a call from Liffmann was hardly out of the ordinary for Drew. The two were always on the phone discussing Bay Area sports, regardless of the season. However, that October night 3 years ago produced a very different conversation – one that would change the trajectory of their careers. They hatched up an idea for Warriors coverage that they would want to watch, breakdowns for the common man by the common man. Basically, a show with two dudes talking about the team they grew up loving.
At the time, Facebook Live was still a new platform and media outlets everywhere were figuring out the best way to use the new tool. It was perfect for Drew and Grant’s new show – “Warriors Fanalysts.”
Drew went to his boss Geoff James, the Director of Digital Media for what would soon become NBC Sports Bay Area, and pitched the idea.
“He said ‘OK, put something together and show me what you’re thinking,’” Drew explains as the two laugh together, almost unsure how they ever got the green light. With no promise of anything, Grant drove up to the Bay Area to shoot their “pilot.” It went well enough that the bosses agreed to let the two take over Facebook the morning after games – with two glaring conditions:
1) Grant (who at the time was just Drew’s friend from Hollywood) would not be paid
2) They had to come up with a new name.
Happy to be gaining traction, Grant agreed to work for free. Leaving his apartment in Los Angeles, he would live out of his mom’s place in Burlingame for a while. As for condition 2, the boys needed outside help.
“I was G Chatting with Grant when I told him we needed a new name,” remembers Drew. “At that moment Ray Ratto came by and said ‘well, you’re definitely not Warriors Insiders, what about ‘Warriors Outsiders?'”
The irony of Bay Area sports icon and Insider Ray Ratto coming up with “the Outsiders” should not be lost on anyone. It was the only change they ever considered.
The first couple shows in the Winter of 2016 and 2017 were a little rough, as the guys remember. Their friends were among the only people commenting on the FB Live feed. Undeterred, they pushed on, breaking down the game from the night before in their own casual style. One thing they had going for them was an excessive thirst for Warriors coverage in the Bay Area. Eventually, more and more fans were logging on live or watching later in the day making the Outsiders more and more recognizable – and marketable.
Warriors sideline reporter Ros Gold-Onwude hopped on the show one day with the boys, and history was made.
“Our first sponsor! I’ll never forget,” exclaims Grant. “Iguanas Burritozilla out of San Jose. They gave us a couple of burritos, some signage and off we went.”
“We were sitting like this, all three of us,” Drew demonstrated, nearly sitting on Grant’s lap with his partner nodding in confirmation.
The stream drew an audience of 10,000 viewers.
By February ‘17 – the Warriors were firmly atop the Western Conference standings and the Outsiders were trending up. Roughly a month before CSN Bay Area was rebranded as NBC Sports Bay Area – VP of Content David Koppett and General Manager Tom Stathakes not only decided to put the Outsiders on television, they wanted the high school buddies in the post game slot.
As Warriors mania increased throughout the 2nd half of the season, as did the Bay Area’s appreciation for the Outsiders. They were relatable, they were new – and they were now associated with winning. The next season, the decision makers gave the Outsiders even more screen time by adding a pregame show for the 2018 playoff run. In fact, the success of Drew and Grant was so overwhelming it spilled out of the Bay Area.
In January of 2018, NBC Sports Northwest launched the Trail Blazers Outsiders. That October, Bulls Outsiders and Wizards Outsiders debuted up on NBC Sports Chicago and Washington, respectively. In their own building, Drew and Grant’s influence reached into baseball season with Giants Outsiders launching in June of 2017.
Two friends, a shared passion for sports, and one important phone call.
Speaking with Shiller and Liffmann in person, you hardly get the impression you’re talking with two guys who – more or less – are changing the landscape of local sports coverage. Which makes sense, as their whole appeal is their approachability. Ask about their story, and they’re happy to tell you. Ask them how much Warriors apparel they have, and they’ll say, “enough to not wear the same thing twice in a season.”
Ask them which is cooler – a career covering the Warriors or a gig working next to your best friend – they’ll say “both.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.