With a sigh, I will humor these madmen. I’ll actually pause to consider their outrageous idea, which must come from watching too many dystopian movies. Me, I’m thinking about how to get off the planet, but let’s assume hundreds of baseball players would abandon families amid our apocalyptic anguish, isolate like lab rats for months in the Arizona desert and embrace a bleak, twilight-zone, coronavirus-sheltered existence.
They’d play in spectator-less ballparks, immediately return to antiseptic quarters and do little else, trying to salvage an inconsequential major-league season by sleeping, bathing, eating, drinking (frequently) and testing for the virus in quarantined lockdown while having contact only with teammates and team personnel. Gee, owners even could sell naming rights to their vast bubble of TV studios. The Purell Dome? The Hydroxychloroquine Hut?
The Donald J. Trump Supertent?
And somehow, they would ignore the overwhelming pall: that Covid-19 is a vile and unshakeable monster, capable of boomeranging in bigger and more destructive waves with no vaccine near. And the impossible challenge: that maintaining social-distancing inside such a bubble is impractical. And the chilling peril: that players would return home and risk spreading the virus to loved ones and others when, so far, only one percent of the U.S. population has been tested. And finally, the bare, inconvenient truth: that restarting sports inevitably will lead to deaths.
Got it? Play ball!
I’d prefer, though, not to dabble in absurd desperation from sports leagues prioritizing lost billions over common pandemic sense. If it’s not safe for fans to watch events in person, why it it safe for athletes to proceed? Rather than risk more lives and waste scarce medical resources best utilized inside hospitals during a DEADLY GLOBAL CRISIS, for God sakes, I would like the gasping, heaving, $200 billion sports industry — and the TV rightsholders panting like starving dogs — to shut down indefinitely. You know, start saying “if’’ and not “when’’ about the resumption of games. It’s becoming a sport in itself: the persistent rush to kickstart the sports economy vs. the sensibility and decency of waiting until, oh, I don’t know, people stop dying? The crisis is far from over, but every time a smidgen of hope surfaces, leagues are in our faces with new contingency plans. Insensitive … galling … pick the word.
Let’s hope one robust example of resistance leads to a surge of sanity. Some 2,800 miles from a chaotic, mixed-message-fraught White House, a voice of reason emerged when Gavin Newsom, governor of California, pressured ESPN to shut down the brazen Ultimate Fighting Championship. Yes, a network desperate for eyeballs, revenues and tourniquets had been all-in for a pay-per-view show, UFC 249, at a California casino resort on tribal land. ESPN didn’t see much wrong with the event … until Newsom did. Targeting ESPN’s parent, California-based DIsney Company, and UFC bossman Dana White — the most delusional of the sports entrepreneurs — Newsom triggered a cancellation after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a statement, accused UFC of defying the state’s shelter-in-place order.
“This event would involve dozens of individuals flying to California and driving to a casino for a purpose no one can honestly claim is essential,’’ wrote Feinstein, adding, “… at best, this event ties up medical resources and sends a message that shelter-in-place orders can be flouted. At worst, participants and support staff could carry the virus back to their home communities and increase its spread.’’
Said a whimpering White, who had vowed to stage his freak show on ESPN+: “Today, we got a call from the highest level you can go at Disney, and the highest level at ESPN. The powers-that-be there asked me to stand down and not do this event.’’ White says he’ll now promote events on a private island outside the U.S., expecting ESPN to air the fights. He thinks coronavirus is someone else’s problem, in oddball lockstep with WWE’s Vince McMahon, who is resuming three live, fan-less shows this week on Fox and USA Network despite the recent positive test of an an-air, non-ring-performing employee.
As for ESPN? “Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do,’’ the network said in a statement, “but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons.’’
Such as: Newsom called top Disney honchos, including executive chairman Bob Iger, and urged them to stop the lunacy. If he wants to be President of the United States someday, and not just a bro-dude governor, Newsom must curry the favor of powerful folk. Which is why I’m gobsmacked that he body-slammed two entertainment behemoths — Disney, which is paying $1.5 billion to UFC in a five-year deal, and Endeavor, which owns UFC. it takes balls to tell Iger, King of Hollywood and Disneyland, to purge a big-revenue fight card in California. But Disney had reason to be concerned about optics: The home of Mickey Mouse and family fun was charging a whopping $64.99, with 17 million Americans out of work, for a social-distancing mockery — fighters sweating and pouncing on each other in Octagon warfare. It constituted a major health risk while defying all logic and pandemic sensitivity. Oh, and it was happening as Disney stock climbed, thanks to the Disney+ streaming service that eclipsed 50 million subscribers, easing the pain of ESPN’s virus-driven troubles.
Of course, do realize President Trump is a UFC guy, White is a Trump guy, and California is the furthest thing from a Trump state. Call it an agenda move, but Newsom knew it was the proper call regardless of political fallout. So he angered some millennial and Gen Z types who can’t blow off cabin-fever smoke this Saturday night. Advice, lads: Read a good book.
Hallelujah. Now, If Trump only would send the same message to other short-sighted sports leagues.
The concerns raised by Feinstein apply to the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and others hellbent on playing. Of prime concern: the risk of transmission is palpable, even in The Bubble. Yet the NBA, trying to avert $1 billion in losses, wants to sequester playoff teams within the medically sealed grounds of a Las Vegas casino/hotel/arena complex. They’d administer rapid-response blood testing before games, hoping to create amnesia about the league’s March coronavirus outbreak — at least 15 persons from eight teams have tested positive, and probably many more — in a sport requiring athletes to grapple and spray sweat droplets on every possession. Has the NBA forgotten Covid-19 Night in Detroit, when Rudy Gobert battled Christian Wood more than 60 times in halfcourt situations, often just a few steps from Donovan Mitchell? All three tested positive, soon joined by a TV camera operator in a medically induced coma, and Mitchell is said to still resent Gobert, though it’s guesswork to say which player had the virus first.
And the NFL’s videoconference draft, like an ignorant surfer in a tsunami, is locked and loaded for three networks, including ESPN and ABC. The league, which at least is using the event to benefit Covid-19 relief efforts, hopes it’s a prelude to a full regular season — fan-less, if necessary — despite the inherent danger of players tackling, spitting and spreading sweat and dirt on every play. Never mind that the league’s very own chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, tells the league’s very own website: “As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport. Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”
The dreamers are marching on anyway, embracing wacky scenarios that aim to circumvent dark realities. All the while, they ignore a mammoth, all-encompassing question hovering above the contagion confusion: Does America even WANT sports to return under such bizarre, force-fed circumstances?
The league and network lords say a resumption of sports would provide a spiritual lift for a wounded and numb American psyche, give us something to do, save our souls. But is that really true, or just a pile of God-complex bunk that overstates the importance of sports amid a pandemic while masking the true reason for the rush to return ASAP: They’re losing their asses financially, the owners and the networks, quietly fearful that a lost 2020 could lead to an industry crash — and a massive sports recession and reckoning in a nation overwhelmed by jobless claims and radically changing priorities. Cord-cutting is a universal calamity, with cable subscribers indignant over being charged the usual sports fees when live games aren’t being played. Many customers can’t afford the $100-plus monthly bills, especially with the cheaper advent of Quibi among plentiful streaming options, which explains why ESPN, Fox Sports and the regional networks are alarmed about possibly losing an entire year of live sports — a doomsday sequence that could cause leagues to lose fortunes in media payments. Include the gambling industry in that pot of anxiety, with the industry’s grand plan to legalize wagering now in the tank, reduced to junkies betting on Belarus soccer, Russian ping-pong, virtual NASCAR and an NBA 2K Players Only event, where, natch, a video-game scandal broke out when inside knowledge about an upset in a pre-taped ESPN event — Derrick Jones Jr. over virus-hit Kevin Durant — leaked to gamblers who put lopsided action on Jones.
Thus, fueled by Trump’s declaration that live games should return “sooner than later’’ as he considers lifting stay-at-home orders in the “biggest decision I’ll ever make,’’ we hear the in-house drumbeat for sports as the national save-all. Not sending kids back to schools. Not returning worshippers to churches and synagogues. Not a gradual resuscitation of essential businesses to help a gut-bombed economy. Nope, sports — where many in the industry are wealthy or at least comfortable in navigating the most horrific health crisis of our time. Why devote resources and supplies to The Bubble when they are desperately needed by health-care frontliners? Why move forward with sports pipedreams when health experts have categorized the virus as seasonal, meaning the great curve could flatten, only to explode again in the autumn and abruptly burst The Bubble? Or, maybe the virus doesn’t recede at all, staying with us indefinitely.
Two independent studies suggest the industry plea isn’t resonating anyway. In a Ketchum Sports poll, only 21 percent of U.S. sports fans want games to resume without fans, opposed to 45 percent who think sports should resume only when fans can attend games and 17 percent who favor a total shutdown. And a poll conducted by the Seton Hall University business school found that 72 percent of respondents won’t attend sports events without a vaccine. No wonder the sports world is in a panic — it could be 18 months, or longer, before a vaccine is made available to the masses. What the league and networks have ignored, in this mad blitz to resume, is that packed stadiums and arenas are vital to a fan’s experience — in person or on TV. LeBron James says fans provide his foremost motivation, home and away, reiterating on a podcast, “Having a game without fans — what is the word ‘sport’ without ‘fan’?” There’s no excitement. There’s no crying. There’s no joy. There’s no back-and-forth.’’ You don’t hear movie and music stars clamoring to come back with live content to soothe the country. The Burning Man festival wisely canceled its stoner-fest in late August. Why must sports act like a religious experience? Are some owners and athletes so deluded by wealth and power that they think they can slay the coronavirus?
“People need something to rally around right now. People need sports,” said Mark Cuban, now merely a “Shark Tank’’ host with his Dallas Mavericks on pause. “We need something to cheer for, something to get excited about, and there’s nothing better than our sports teams to do it.’’
How appropriate that Cuban spoke on a CNBC special, “Markets In Turmoil.’’ Because red ink blinds even multi-billionaires. The virus continues to spread, hotspots popping up like a whack-a-mole game. New York is an unspeakable death zone, its hospitals still overrun with chaos. Outside, we wear masks that aren’t sufficient when clammy runners pass inches away. Inside, we’re either going to die of self-exile, boredom or too much Netflix. But does that mean the resumption of sports will invigorate us and provide a sweeping blueprint for returning to work? It all seems hurried and backwards for the wrong reasons, as if sports is central to the American consciousness when, in crisis, it should be reduced to rightful frivolity.
There hasn’t been enough discussion about the most important issue. Will athletes be safe within The Bubble? Will they want to take the risks? Are we to foolishly assume every player and staffer on dozens of sports teams, through weeks or months of Quarantine Ball, will continue to test negative? As much as 40 percent of the U.S. population might be asymptomatic virus carriers. Can’t the leagues do the math? As Sills said, there will be positive tests; see Japan, where a planned resumption of baseball stalled, and officials say the Tokyo Olympics might be a no-go in 2021. It’s absurd to focus on introducing robot umpires when scrutiny should be on the response if even one person becomes sick in The Bubble. MLB might want to trudge on and test everyone, day after day, which would be onerous when dealing with players, managers, coaches, trainers and staffers from 30 franchises, along with hotel employees, cooks, groundskeepers, clubhouse attendants and limited media. Wouldn’t everything have to shut down at once? Wouldn’t everyone have to evacuate the Purell Dome and return home, where they’d have to self-quarantine for weeks? Do you honestly think megastars such as James and Mike Trout would jeopardize everything they’ve amassed for one season in The Bubble? Or two Bubbles, if MLB went forward with another realignment plan: ditch the American and National Leagues and play Quarantine Ball in two states, Arizona and Florida.
The baseball owners can’t help but push that explosive envelope, when the coronavirus is as serious as a frozen corpse in a parking lot. Superagent Scott Boras has no doubt fans would devour the televised offerings, even if baseball’s ratings have plummeted for years. “It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy. You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus,’’ he said.
Isn’t it fascinating how everyone is playing doctor? Instead of talking to a psychologist, hear out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said: “I would love to see sports back to help with cabin fever. But this is not about hopes and dreams and aspirations and what you would like to see. This is an enemy that we have underestimated from Day 1, and we have paid the price dearly.’’
Want more hard-core realism? Sports faces a future that might not include many fans in seats and business people in suites. Call it the Petri Dish Effect — who wants to wear masks or submit to forehead scans, or risk getting sick in a bathroom or hot-dog line, or sanitize hands every 10 minutes, when the virus will dominate everyday life for the foreseeable future? Expect distancing beyond six feet, forcing stadiums and arenas to monitor entrances and corridors and reconfigure seating sections; imagine the Los Angeles Rams having to rip out seats in the new, privately financed, $6 billion SoFi Stadium? Gamblers and fantasy players won’t care, but purists — and they count — will bemoan the lost atmosphere. And can you believe Trump might bribe “fans in arenas’’ with tax breaks if they attend events? Uh, yeah, I can believe it.
Until then, the leagues should abandon Quarantine Ball and know this: There is no end game without a cure. Sports used to serve as a meaningful diversion in times of upheaval; I recall urgency as a Chicago columnist, not long after 9/11, to board a near-empty flight to St. Louis for a Cubs-Cardinals game, and later, to chronicle the woe of a heartbroken New York during the World Series. Baseball continued during World War II, and the NFL carried on after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But Covid-19 is different, elusive, as freakish as errant saliva in the airstream. We wake each day, or in the middle of the night, wondering if someone we know has died or been hospitalized, or if a simple sneeze means the worst.
It’s hard to imagine any sporting event erasing those fears, even for a few hours. And if that game is played inside a quiet, airtight blob in the hinterlands, well, that’s as weird as pandemic life itself.
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.’’
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.