Do we need sledgehammers to blast away the ignorance? Blowtorches to thaw the collective brainfreeze? Simple medical logic cannot be repeated enough: It’s unconscionable, if not criminal, to resume contact/close-quarter sports amid a pandemic until athletes know they’re safe beyond doubt. And with testing capacity still woefully inadequate, and no vaccine or cure in sight, they will NOT be safe — does everyone grasp this? — regardless of flim-flam assurances from sports leaders who’ve suddenly become infectious disease experts, armed with overnight degrees from the University of Phoenix.
For every realistic soul such as NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who told players that resuming the season is increasingly unlikely amid perhaps “the single greatest challenge of our lives,’’ America remains vexed by an obnoxious wave of empathy-challenged snakes such as Dana White, who said not long ago, “I don’t give a sh-t about the coronavirus.’’
The mixed-martial-arts maniac thinks he’s a conquering hero after staging UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Fla., the first live U.S. sports event of magnitude since the outbreak. I would call him a rogue so obsessed with making money, turning itchy gamblers loose and promoting his violent sport — at $65 a pop, for a card without spectators in a nation where nearly half the adult population is jobless — that he abandoned all cogent concern for human life in what only can be called a debacle. In a sane world, White would be apprehended for putting lives at risk, proceeding with the event after a fighter, Ronaldo “Jacare’’ Souza, and two of his cornermen tested positive for the virus. This after White and UFC owner Endeavor, a Hollywood agency rocked by the crisis, angered the health community by using 1,200 antigen and antibody kits that should have been directed to states and municipalities lacking tests.
The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, says her virus-gripped city can test only 1,500 people a day. But White can use 1,200 tests, damned the dying. See, he wanted to be “the first’’ to carry out President Trump’s reckless desire to resume live sports, convinced that his hotel-to-studio quarantine plan provides the playbook for other leagues when, in truth, it’s a cautionary tale for why sports shouldn’t resume. Let’s see if White gives “a sh-t’’ should the virus spread through his kingdom, cancel two more fan-free events this week in the same building and, I don’t know, maybe infect him.
“It’s not unexpected one person would test positive. The system works,’’ said White, whose count was off by two, if not more to come. You will hear not even the slightest condemnation of White on any news platform attached to ESPN, which greeted app users hours before UFC 249 with an eyeball blitz: a large ad hawking the ESPN+ exclusive pay-per-view stream. Remember, ESPN is owned by Disney, purveyor of hopes and dreams, and run by Bob Iger, who said during an earnings call reporting the company’s $1.4 billion bloodbath: “People find comfort in our messages of hope and optimism.’’
If Iger thinks hope and optimism ooze from sweaty cage fighters who might be spreading a deadly virus, I invite him to climb into the Octagon. Or listen to Zachary Binney, an Atlanta-based epidemiologist who used his Twitter page to torch White as “negligent’’ for mishandling safety protocols and restarting the event too soon. “If this was your system working as designed,’’ wrote Binney, “your system is bogus.’’
But then, this is what happens when the UFC president worships Trump. He thinks the White House is named for him. “I want to congratulate Dana White and the UFC. We love it,” Trump said on the broadcast. “We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back.”
It’s enough to make one hurl — and puts into perspective a story that normally would elicit contempt, the possibility that Mike Krzyzewski’s imperial reign at Duke will be sullied if Zion Williamson was paid in the latest chapter of the sneaker scandals. Does paying a college basketball player, even at pious Duke, compare to jeopardizing lives? If it struck you as odd that no fighters criticized UFC for proceeding with the event after Souza was sent home, well, it seems Dana The Megalomaniac threatened their livelihoods. As tweeted by Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza, they were required to sign documents agreeing to accept possible losses of purses and bonuses. Responded White: “What (expletive) law school did he go to? I can’t stand that (expletive) creep if you couldn’t tell. He’s just a (expletive) — look at him, that creepy, little dude. What the (expletive) does he know about our contracts?”
After which White declared, somehow, that his life-and-death-farce was an unequivocal success, providing a blueprint — gulp! — for other U.S. businesses to resume. “The whole world is weird right now. Everything is weird. This whole event is weird,’’ he said. “We live in a different world than we did two months ago. The bottom line is, the system worked. What you don’t want to do is two days after the fight say, `Oh (expletive), Jacare tested positive.’ The system worked that we put in place.
“Without sounding like a jackass, we’re really good at what we do. We’re very, very good at what we do. We’ll just get better. The longer this goes, the better the testing technology will get and the faster it will get. We’re going to prove by next Saturday that professional sports can come back safely.”
Or, that he can put several of his employees on ventilators. Never mind that White, while waiting for the test results Friday, not only staged a weigh-in with Souza but wasn’t wearing a mask as he fist-bumped the fighter. And never mind that UFC bagged its original safety-first plan and held post-fight interviews in the Octagon, which placed color commentator Joe Rogan in virus peril when he was to have conducted remote interviews as fighters wore sanitized headsets in isolation. Yep, this is how we do it, Dana.
What frightens me is that too many power players in sports, a $200-billion industry teetering on the brink, share White’s hellbent view about the health catastrophe of our time. Of course, millions worldwide want sports to return — the owners losing billions, the networks dying with Korean baseball, the fans who need entertainment and self-identity joyrides, the gamblers who would rather contract Covid-19 than go another day without real action. But athletes are not automatons or slaves in this fraught, unprecedented equation. They are human beings with loved ones who shouldn’t be subjected to wealth-over-health pressures just because live events are “essential’’ to the American psyche, the crumbling sports and broadcast economies and Trump’s nighttime La-Z-Boy diversions. The smart play for Big Sports is to wait, until 2021, and then move forward after assessing the fallout and reimagining the industry.
Once again, with emphasis: Why resume games and events if the people in uniform — players, coaches, officials — aren’t safe?
“I think 2020 has been practically lost,’’ said tennis icon Rafael Nadal, speaking for many athletes. “I’m hopeful of being able to start next year. Sadly, I’m not going to lie to you, the feeling is that we are losing a year of our lives.’’
“I am worried like the rest of the world,’’ NBA star C.J. McCollum told Yahoo Sports. “You have to think at some point when there are drastic measures that need to be taken, `Is it really worth it?’ It’s either safe or not.’’
Yet the stench of self-interest continues to share the air with zillions of coronavirus particles. Don’t confuse the cautious reopening of businesses — or even attempts to re-establish the PGA Tour, the ultimate solo sport — with the ill-devised concept of team sports returning while defying physical distancing mandates and mass-gatherings bans. Leagues and broadcast networks would like to play ball as soon as this summer while people continue to die in large numbers, maybe right next door. And if you dare to oppose the resumption of games, well, you must be a negative nabob or germophobic dweeb who hates sports, as I’ve been called.
In the rush to resume — Major League Baseball wishful-inching toward a July 4 start, the NFL releasing its schedule and expecting a September start with fans in the stands, the NBA clinging to a pipedream within a quarantined Walt Disney World and Las Vegas casino hotel — it’s inhumane to be planning games, even on television with empty seats, until every commissioner, pushy owner and sneaky operative with a political or financial agenda can state the following without flunking a lie-detector test: Sports Bubbles will not be petri dishes for contagion.
They might hope for the best, but hoping is not knowing when it comes to the pandemic. I shouldn’t have to issue updates: the death count hasn’t slowed, with the virus killing nearly 300,000 worldwide and 80,000-plus in the U.S.; at least 1,000 Americans have died and 25,000 have been infected each day since early April; and the U.S. leads the world with almost 1.4 million cases. But Big Sports continues to shrug and wear blinders, dedicated to ignoring the blight in the interest of money. It’s one thing to resume sports after 9/11, or during wartime when the battles are overseas. But this virus is a ghostly, unsolvable evil that has locked us all in a toxic grip, capable of striking anyone at any time despite inane views that it afflicts only the elderly and the poor. Sports, with or without spectators, is just asking for a mass breakout. This is no time to come off as greedy and arrogant in a nation overwhelmed by two horrors: Covid-19 and rampant unemployment. The leagues can curry the favor of politicians and doctors who downplay the health risks, yet isn’t that a blatant disregard for life, especially if they use tests still lacking in some hospitals and laboratories? And if sports leaders do hoard resources like White, do they realize how many tests would have to be regularly administered? How difficult and maddening it would be just to stage one nine-inning ballgame or 60-minute football game?
Is anyone out there thinking? Not MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who is proposing a season of 80 games or so in geographical pods, with expanded playoffs, while asking players to take pay cuts — and assume health risks. This reeks of a typical attempt by owners to paint players as bad guys in a brewing labor dispute, and right now, no one is in the mood for mud-slinging between billionaires and millionaires. Shame on the owners for not pausing their selfish desires and waiting for credible medical answers, assuming any are coming.
“The coronavirus will establish the timetable for sports. … We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that,’’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci, in quarantine himself after possible contact with a Trump administration staffer who tested positive.
Actually, Silver is thinking. As NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal calls for the season to be canceled and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers admits he’s “worried’’ about reopening practice facilities, Silver is confronting the truths that other commissioners prefer to disregard, telling players gloomily on a conference call, “Until there is a vaccine or some magical cocktail that prevents people from dying from this virus, we are going to be dealing with it, collectively.’’ Meaning, players will assume health risks to resume play and draw ample salaries sure to shrink. That’s because spectators aren’t expected until next season at the earliest, if then, in a league that generates 40 percent of revenues via paying customers. According to The Athletic, Silver told players the NBA “couldn’t start now even if we wanted to,’’ even as franchises are “crushed’’ financially by the pandemic.
And California governor Gavin Newsom is thinking. His state is home to 15 franchises in the four major sports leagues and numerous big-time college facilities, yet he is the anti-White, refusing to consider sports without live audiences, let alone with fans in the stands. Asked about the NFL’s schedule release, Newsom could have played a smooth political hand, knowing that a $6 billion stadium for the L.A. Rams and Chargers is nearing completion. Instead, he posed a hard question for commissioner Roger Goodell and owners.
“Imagine what the league — broadly, leagues — do when one or two of their key personnel or players are tested positive,’’ he said. “Do they quarantine the rest of the team if an offensive lineman is practicing with a defensive lineman, and they (have) tested positive? What happens to the rest of the line? What happens for the game coming up next weekend? It’s inconceivable to me that that’s not a likely scenario, so it’s a very challenging question you’re asking.”
As for fans in stadiums and arenas, it’s impractical until 2021 in a state that has topped 2,700 deaths. “It’s difficult to imagine a stadium that’s filled until we have immunity and until we have a vaccine,” Newsom said. “it’s a very tough question for these leagues to answer, because they must have a safety-first, health-first mindset, and there are conditions that persist in this state and this nation that make reopening very, very challenging.”
It’s also good to see Mark Cuban, who still hasn’t ruled out a presidential run, finally emphasizing health-first after once leading the charge for sports to resume. “Seriously, if you’re a player, who do you trust with your life?’’ Cuban told ESPN Radio. “If you’re a coach or a trainer or, anybody for that matter, that’s essential personnel for getting something back together, do you trust the hotel that we’re going to stay at to keep everything safe — the technology they’re using, the protocols they’re using? … The problem, obviously, is because we can’t test people, then we can’t assure anybody’s safety, whether they’re basketball players or anybody else.’’
How long will it take for sound judgment to cut through the self-centered delusion? Stop to consider the Real Real. We’re actually going to abandon distancing and masks so football players can tackle each other, basketball players can drip sweat beads on each other and baseball players can breathe on each other? We’re really going to proceed with seasons when one positive test — among hundreds of essential personnel who would be tested daily — might shut down the league? The NBA is weighing whether to allow children, wives and girlfriends inside its Quarantine Bubble, which could prompt Vegas to set at least one over-under in its empty casinos: How many people catch the virus on the first day of testing? God forbid if a league copies the UFC strategy of not creating a lockdown perimeter around the hotel and arena, asking 300 workers to be responsible when entering the outside world during an eight-day period of events. MLB wants teams to play in home ballparks within areas less infected by the virus, but wouldn’t players risk bringing strains back to their families each night? And does Manfred, an attorney by trade, realize legions of lawyers are ready to pounce if the virus spreads? MLB has political support from Trump and some governors, but what about other officials in states, cities, counties and one Canadian province? How can baseball start in July when five ballparks in California are shut down? They’re going to make the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, A’s and Padres play only road games for months? Has Manfred called the wives and kids of affected players, telling them Dad won’t be around for a while … and might bring home the virus, too?
Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, two of baseball’s biggest names, already have said no. How can MLB stage a legitimate season without superstars who don’t want to take risks? And I don’t need to tell athletes that a second wave of the pandemic could be in the on-deck circle, preparing another wicked blast. All of these proposals, these hopeful stories disseminated by ESPN and other sports media ventures whose survival depends on the resumption of sports — has anyone asked the athletes what they think? Sports cannot happen unless the athletes say yes. Don’t presume they will.
“We’re in a situation where you can’t make this mandatory. You can’t tell a guy you have to come play or else your roster spot is not going to be here when you come back. You can’t tell a guy to risk his life and the life of his family and the lives of anyone he chooses to be around to come play this game,’’ Boston Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh told Mass Live. “I’m a husband, I’m a father. There are many guys in the league with underlying conditions, with preexisting conditions like diabetes and heart arrhythmias. You look at our coaching staffs, there’s tons of guys over 65. Umpires, there’s a lot of guys over 65. When you’re talking about the risk factors, there are going to be guys who sincerely have to weigh the risks of coming back versus staying at home.”
Said St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andrew Miller, in an ESPN interview: “I don’t think anything can be done until (safety) can be guaranteed and we feel comfortable with it. It’s not hard to get one degree of separation away from players who have kids who may have conditions, or other family members that live with them.’’
Don’t tell that to some sports executives who are pressuring athletes to return … or else. ESPN quoted two NBA general managers — unnamed — who expect athletes to cave in and play when faced with no paychecks. This is not the time, obviously, for meat-on-the-hoof demands.
Yet the NFL marches on, convinced a gladiator sport will proceed with fans and expecting players to be ready for tackling warfare in September. Hopefully, this is more a grandstand play ahead of lucrative broadcasting negotiations than an actual firm plan, because how did the virus spread in Italy? Oh, when tens of thousands of fans, packed together in a soccer stadium, simultaneously released untold amounts of saliva when goals were scored. Let the Miami Dolphins present a vision for physical distancing and 20-point cleansing while reducing Hard Rock Stadium to a 15,000-seat venue; it’s still a petri dish. And if local governments, such as California, don’t allow fans inside stadiums, the NFL insists it will play in states and cities that do — the same strategy proposed by MLB. Is this not absolute lunacy? In a matter of weeks, we’re casually going to assume regular seasons will happen, with no concern for consequences if, say, a star player fails a temperature check and must be removed for immediate testing? Imagine the panic, the preposterousness of it all, just so rich leagues and networks can salvage billions.
That is to assume Americans even want sports without bodies in the seats. What begins as a unique experience inevitably will devolve into a creepy reminder of lost normalcy. Imagine an NBA playoff game with no fans, Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees with no fans, SoFi Stadium debuting with no fans for Rams-Cowboys. People who say they’re ready aren’t giving themselves enough credit for their roles in the total experience. Fox Sports has talked of creating virtual fans and piping in a crowd-noise track that ebbs and flows depending on game developments. Look, the essence of sports is palpable human energy. And it’s gone until people come back to stadiums and arenas. And most aren’t coming back, as several surveys have indicated, without a vaccine.
Sports continues to stay somewhat relevant in the news cycle. LeBron James is among those outraged by the fatal Georgia shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man gunned down while jogging by two white men. Charles Barkley still bemoans his frayed friendship with Michael Jordan, whose 10-part docu-series hit a creative peak Sunday night with a chronicling of his father’s murder and his subsequent decision to play minor-league baseball — though still failing, in a production controlled by Jordan, to investigate his unavoidable gambling habits during a still-murky 1993. The college basketball cesspool gurgles, with the NCAA referring to Kansas and coach Bill Self as “egregious’’ rules-breakers, while Giannis Antetokounmpo says his social-media accounts were hacked and that he doesn’t ache to sign with the Golden State Warriors. Oh, and the Baltimore Ravens want to dump safety Earl Thomas after his wife, allegedly pointing a gun at his head, found him in bed with other women … and his brother Seth.
Still, I can’t help but fixate on the fool in Jacksonville and his two encore events this week. UFC now stands for Unabashedly Flouting Coronavirus.
The athletes aren’t safe.
So, please, shut down sports before someone dies.
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.