To hear Scott Van Pelt tell it, he may be more shocked than anyone that he won Barrett Sports Media’s SportsCenter anchors bracket. It happened though. With just over 58% of the more than 5000 votes coming on Monday, SVP topped Dan Patrick in the finals.
“Dan is an all-time legend. Beating him is nonsense. I tweeted as much,” Van Pelt said. He told me that he is surprised by a lot of his victories on the way to the championship. “Stuart – same kind of thing. He’s a Rushmore type of anchor in ESPN’s history. I don’t think I am. You could make cases for everyone I went against, obviously, which is why people voted for each person I was up against.”
Van Pelt is wrong. He is on the same plane as names like Patrick, Olberman, Scott, and Berman in SportsCenter history. Something we learned along the way in this tournament is that your idea of the GOAT depends on what generation of the show you grew up with. For a guy like Van Pelt, who will turn 50 in July, that generation is the one that included The Big Show, Charley Steiner, Karl Ravech, and their contemporaries.
But none of those guys got their own edition of SportsCenter. For all of his influence on the business, Dan Patrick didn’t have his name in the title of the network’s midnight broadcast and the show built around his personality. For all of the credit he gets for reshaping sports highlights, Stuart Scott never got his own set. Scott Van Pelt did, and that doesn’t happen to just anyone.
“It’s nice to be thought of as someone who has done something memorable with the opportunity. I’ve been here a long time and gotten to do some cool things,” he says trying to downplay his spot in the show’s history. “The show I have, they never got to do, which is too bad. Because certainly any and all would have been capable of doing amazing things. It wasn’t that I was better, or more worthy, it was simply the timing of it all. But it’s all flavors of ice cream, you know? Some people like you and others don’t. I’m thankful we have an audience who appreciates the approach.”
There may have been upsets along the way, but when it came to the Final Four, BSM’s SportsCenter anchors bracket didn’t offer a ton of surprises. It was three number one seeds…and Matt Barrie.
Remember, “not a ton of surprises” doesn’t mean “no surprises.” To Van Pelt though, Barrie’s run as a 16 seed was something that made the tournament even more fun than just living on nostalgia alone.
“I think it’s really cool how he embraced the fun of this. He made it a social media thing and rallied the troops. None of this is serious. It’s not like there are cash prizes. Are there? Are there any prizes?” he asks hopefully. Sadly, there are none.
Matt Barrie definitely rallied the troops. He played social media like a fiddle during the tournament and Van Pelt notes that even without winning, Barrie gave his followers a perfect payoff.
“His concession presser was really funny and really well done. I like him a lot. But let’s call it what it is – beating Boomer and KO is insanity. Those guys are all time giants. I think Matt would be the first to say so.”
When it comes to “cool things,” SVP hasn’t just done them. He has brought them to us. SportsCenter has had a subversive, tongue-in-cheek streak for a long time. Van Pelt seems to thrive on it.
He started talking about bad beats and acknowledging the sports bettors in his audience long before the Supreme Court opened the door for legalization outside of Nevada. His segment “Where in the World Isn’t SVP?” is a masterpiece of self-deprecation, and as a fellow bald guy that wears glasses, something I’m always delighted by.
Van Pelt’s lasting impact, not just on SportsCenter, but on ESPN in general, is that he is one of the first talents not to pretend that he isn’t also a fan. I remember Dan Patrick on his ESPN Radio show once saying that he grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan, but gave that up when he become a reporter.
That’s not how SVP rolls.
Van Pelt went to the University of Maryland. He is every bit as proud of being a Terp as Jim Henson was before him and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank was after him. That made it okay down the road for Sarah Spain to acknowledge her die hard love of Chicago teams. It made it okay for Mina Kimes to stress and obsess over every mention of the Seattle Seahawks.
When I asked Van Pelt if winning the BSM SportsCenter anchors bracket made it easier to stomach his Terps not getting a chance to play for a national championship in 2020, he echoes the sentiment so many in the sports world have for college basketball’s Big Dance.
“Nothing will ever take the sting away from not getting to play this tournament. Nothing.”
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.