Who needs Joe Exotic as a badass when we have Adam Schefter, winning what should be a lifetime award for Best Commentary During a Pandemic by a Media Professional? Not once but twice on ESPN, Schefter lambasted the NFL for continuing its multi-billion-dollar business machine amid the coronavirus “carnage’’ — his word — as if the horror wasn’t real and dead bodies weren’t being placed in parking-lot freezers. Scared, proud and nobody’s corporate puppet, Schefter spoke for many of us appalled by the league’s hubris and audacity during an apocalyptic lockdown.
This might be the end of the world as we know it. But before our collective societal demise, as the death toll soars and cloth masks become life-or-death necessities, Roger Goodell still must conduct his NFL Draft this month.
“The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight from the NFL, frankly. They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets!’’ raged Schefter, ESPN’s NFL insider, biting the hand of the league that feeds him information and risking the wrath of the employer that pays him handsomely.
It’s a shame President Trump wasn’t listening. For he, too, has returned to the same delusional rabbit hole, recklessly suggesting sports could resume, with fans in stadiums and arenas, as soon as August. This only creates false and baseless hope for major commissioners — and ailing sports media — that games and events will be played “sooner than later.’’ Just last week, Trump described the coronavirus as “the invisible enemy,’’ referring to the crisis as “the worst thing this country has probably ever seen.’’ Now he’s vacillating again, stating the NFL season should start as scheduled in September when anyone who hazards such guesses is lying.
America is losing lives, its economy, its soul. America is losing America.
Trump is ready for some football, baby, ignoring the massacre and misery. “They want to get back. They’ve got to get back. They can’t do this. Their sports weren’t designed for it,’’ he said of the leagues. “I want fans back in the arenas. I think it’s whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports.”
Never mind that coronavirus is the devil, a continuing venture into the lethal unknown, and that it’s absurd to think Americans suddenly will cram into mass gatherings and competitive spaces anytime soon. Has Trump considered the infection dangers for athletes and fans — all unclear on who among them has tested positive, who is a silent asymptomatic carrier and whether another strain might arrive in the fall, as health experts have forecast? Has he thought about their families, the risk of transmissions and outbreaks? Trump has planted a seed for desperate leagues and sports media to embrace when, in any sane context, all parties should be assuming sports will be shut down for the long term. For commissioners such as Goodell and sports media companies adrift without live sports and relevance, Trump’s words are catnip — a fleeting tease. The voice of reason is California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said bluntly, “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state.’’ If Newsom shuts down the home buildings of 18 major-league franchises in the state, well, the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS can’t resume play without them.
Trump wants to kickstart a broken economy, but he cannot do so at the expense of human fear and grim optics. This is what Schefter was pointing out, magnificently, about the NFL Draft. If only he’d continued to comment on ESPN, a co-conspirator with the league, for merrily agreeing to air the stink bomb over two networks. And while WWE isn’t a legitimate sport, Vince McMahon was borderline criminal in allowing half-naked humans to engage, slam, pounce and sweat on each other during a spectator-less WrestleMania 36. Fox and Fite TV were enablers, charging $59.99 with millions of Americans out of work.
It wasn’t his intention, but Schefter also was making a sweeping statement about his own wobbling and crumbling industry: This is the absolute worst time in history to be sticking to sports. As if trying to speak leagues and events back into existence when they might not return for a very long time, outlets ranging from TV networks to content verticals to talk radio carry on with the day’s usual sports ledger when THERE ARE NO SPORTS. Are they really pretending the coronavirus is someone else’s problem? Did I just hear ESPN’s Rex Ryan refer to Amari Cooper as “a turd?’’ The blinders-on approach is inappropriate and oblivious to the agony outside this false bubble, and it begs for urgent perspective: Stop retreating and surrendering, get out of the sports sandbox and use an extraordinary moment to showcase intelligence and expertise as journalists, voicing opinions and experiences that resonate among the frightened, isolated millions.
Now insignificant in and of itself, the already volatile world of sports media faces an existential crossroads that, much like America and Planet Earth, will leave things eerily unrecognizable when the devil finally lets us come up for air. I see a business that is lost and tanking, in the vernacular, without games and news to disseminate and dissect. The modus operandi is to hang on for dear life in a safe, nothing-but-sports editorial mode as companies plan layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs while hoping Trump is right. When it turns out he’s wrong, the shutdowns will begin. This is the ultimate price when media companies choose to be dependent on the bigger mechanism — the leagues and franchises with which they climb into bed — instead of maintaining a fiercely independent, versatile business model. When a media firm is strictly beholden to that mechanism, it goes down with the entire sports ship as a niche throwaway when coronavirus decides to swallow the planet.
Let’s hope, and maybe pray, that Schefter and other voices of his higher mindset are giving a dying industry some hits of oxygen — and a reminder of our mission. In times of crisis, we are not “sports media people’’ as much as thoughtful human beings, many skilled and resourceful, who should be seizing the pandemic as a tragic but unique opportunity to elevate as reporters, storytellers and robust commentators. All sports media should be covering this epic story en masse, not stepping back from it and lazily letting news networks handle it while filling airtime and sites with trite, useless, avoid-the-elephant fluff. You’d never know the world has stopped amid the uninterrupted coverage of athletes and teams. The movie and music industries no longer receive such attention, but how about those Chicago Bears, creating a competition between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles?
And we certainly shouldn’t fantasize that the pandemic isn’t happening, as The Athletic has rationalized with content weakened by too many wishy-washy, denial-shaped offerings: “Greatest Game I Covered’’ … “2020 NBA Draft Big Board 4.0’’ … “What If Johnny Cueto didn’t pull his oblique in the 2012 playoffs?’’ … “Grading Bobby Boucher’s legendary tackling in `The Waterboy.’ ‘’ The site has a terrific enterprise reporter, Joe Vardon, who wrote one definitive piece about sports and the coronavirus. Turn him loose! I wish The Athletic, so impressive in breaking baseball’s sign-stealing scandal, was alone in this real-news bailout that treats readers like Santa Claus-robbed kids while insulting a gifted writing staff that should be encouraged to attack the health catastrophe of our lives. But it pretty much reflects the norm: sports outlets succumbing as mindless toy departments amid a global disaster, thinking they need to distract and divert.
This is no time for Dr. Feelgood or charlatans. This is no fairy tale, as the networks like to posit about sports. This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around. This is the coronavirus. And if you’re running a sports media company, you might want to maximize audiences with raw, relevant and deeply human bandwidth, rather than planting wishful-thinking seeds about the resumption of sports. With stay-at-home orders tethering people to homes like never before, sports media have an opportunity to attract more eyeballs and ears with compelling content. But if advertising revenue continues to crash, this ultimately could be extinction time for sites, talk stations and what’s left of dinosaur newspapers.
Some sports media people, including executives, never leave the sandbox. Schefter, who has authored a book about personal loss, left the sandbox long ago. As ESPN’s lead NFL reporter, he’s a front-facing point man for a company that desperately needs Goodell and the billionaire owners for future survival and has been dedicated to repairing its once-prickly relationship with the league. With Disney Co. preparing a massive bid for a more prominent ABC/ESPN place in the NFL’s broadcast pecking order, ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro wants nothing to interfere with high-stakes negotiations that evidently will proceed hell or high water in the not-distant future.
Did Schefter sabotage his own company’s dealings with Goodell and the owners? By excoriating the league for moving forward with the draft, did he jeopardize ABC/ESPN’s audience potential for that event? And did he also risk losing some league sources valuable to him in his daily reporting?
That’s why he wins the lifetime award. Internal politics didn’t matter to him when a bigger message had to be sent, and he did so at a network where Pitaro — charged with cleaning up the social mess left by his fired predecessor — has warned on-air talent to stick to sports.
Fallout be damned, Schefter should be applauded as a sophisticated human being who refused to be a house man. Goodell has been guilty of tone-deafness throughout his tenure, but his current business-as-usual stance establishes shameful lows. He lives and works in virus-ravaged New York City. Has he not noticed the dozens of mobile morgues, the emergency rooms desperate for ventilators and masks and beds, a muscular world capital reduced to panic and rampant life-risk? America is gutted — physically, financially, spiritually — and 240,000 could die. Yet the NFL is staging its draft anyway. Assumes Goodell: “The draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans and the country at large.’’ Know what a positive purpose would be? Keep writing checks for coronavirus relief. Many owners have done so, including Bob Kraft, who used the New England Patriots’ plane to transport masks he purchased from China. The NFL, which so far has donated about $40 million to the cause, could add more zeroes and commas — say, $1 billion.
Why am I so fired up about Schefter? Because I’ve devoted much of my life to this profession — as a columnist for 25-plus years, a daily panelist for eight years in the peak period of ESPN’s “Around The Horn,’’ and a radio host and podcaster who has cringed as the business loses some of its edge, gravitas and credibility. On Sept. 10, 2001, I broke a story: Standing outside a gym on Chicago’s west side, Michael Jordan told me and the Associated Press’ Jim Litke that he was returning to basketball with the Washington Wizards. The next morning, TV trucks lined up outside our radio studios, and I answered questions about Jordan. Suddenly, as if I’d passed bad gas, the reporters and camera people vanished. I noticed a TV screen, saw the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan in flames and realized 9/10 and Jordan no longer mattered on 9/11.
Within minutes, it was time to do our national show. I joined Litke and Mike Mulligan, newspeople at heart, in covering the terror as it unfolded over TV screens. We described the scenes, took calls from petrified listeners, explained how this moment would alter our trust in humankind and provided familiar voices for people in need. The next day, we received praise from a media critic for, ahem, refusing to stick to sports. But not before our program director, Mark Gentzkow, won a fierce hallway argument with an advertising boss who wanted to send us home and flip to network news programming.
I’m the one who stuck around the Bay Area after the 1989 earthquake, a kid columnist who remained for days with like-minded colleagues. While many sportswriters flew home after the World Series was postponed, I covered a massive tragedy because I wanted to be more than “a sportswriter.’’ I’m the one who gave a wad of cash to a worker at an all-night Atlanta gas station so three of us had space to write in the wee hours, near Centennial Olympic Park, where a deadly bomb had exploded minutes earlier.
I’m the one who handed back a million dollars, guaranteed, to a Chicago newspaper that refused to overhaul an abysmal digital site. I’m the one who appeared 10 years ago on the HBO show, “Real Sports,’’ and said newspapers would collapse if they didn’t shift away from newsprint and embrace tech. Was I wrong?
So I’m the one who wants to run to the beach, violate California social-distancing rules and shout in celebration when Schefter raises hell. Or when Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post marvels at how stadiums have become medical facilities. Or when Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s college football analyst, says he’d be “shocked’’ if football was played this fall without a vaccine that, in in the best case, might be 18 months from development, approval, distribution and politicization — drawing the ire of clueless college coaches and athletic directors. Or when the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke spends a lost Opening Day at desolate Dodger Stadium and details why life suddenly can be rendered empty and joyless. Or when the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson probes the Milan soccer match that escalated Italy’s virus spread. Or when a San Francisco program director raves about the worldly tone of radio hosts who have ditched fun and games.
The good, smart stuff is out there. You just have to look hard for it, too hard.
Sports has been rendered frivolous, yes. That doesn’t mean sports media has to be frivolous. We only live once, and if we’re all dying tomorrow, I’d prefer not to catch up on Johnny Cueto’s oblique pull. Might someone opine on why the pariah-turned-TV-prince, Alex Rodriguez, was caught leaving a closed gym with Jennifer Lopez amid Florida’s stay-at-home order? Once a cheater, always a cheater?
Have at it, Ken Rosenthal. Dare ya.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’
Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?
How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.
But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?
As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.
Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.
Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.
I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.
What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.
As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.
Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.
But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.
Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.
There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.
I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.
Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not
“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”
There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City.
Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in.
A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.
“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”
Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show
“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”
He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.
“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”
For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.
“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”
“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”
So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN.
But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.
“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.
“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”
But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.
“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”
He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.
“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”
Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely.
Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task.
“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”
Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm.
Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success.
Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”
The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.
The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.
Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.
But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.
When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.
There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.
And the fans know it.
The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person.
In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night.
They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.
And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.
I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.
A star is born.
When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”
And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.
Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.
But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.
“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”
He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.
“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”
But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.
“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.
And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.
Resonating with Boston
When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.
It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.
“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said.
While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time.
Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.
“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”
But there just may be something else at play.
“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”
The Family Dynamic
Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.
But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?
“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”
“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”
At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?
“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”
Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.