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There’s Not One Answer Out There For Spencer Hall

“I feel like if you talk about what LSU has meant to people that follow LSU or if you follow the history of USC football in LA, you get some interesting stories that haven’t necessarily been covered as well or as closely””

Demetri Ravanos

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Spencer Hall is currently unemployed.

Maybe the average sports fan doesn’t get how strange that is, but to Scott Van Pelt, it’s a truth he finds hard to accept.

“He’s completely unique,” SVP told me in an email. “Brilliant. Uproariously funny. Nobody sees things like he does.”

I grew up in Alabama. I went to the University of Alabama. Until 2016, I was very much one of those Bama fans – the type that couldn’t let any opposing fanbase feel joy or express team pride without feeling the need to remind them how superior my team was. That changed when I discovered Everyday Should be Saturday, the site that hosted Hall’s columns and his podcast, The Shutdown Fullcast.

“I had none,” Hall says when I asked him if he had any goals of changing the way fans thought about college football when he launched Everyday Should be Saturday fifteen years ago. “I just enjoyed writing. That was it. I finally found a way of saying what I wanted to say and a community all at the same time. That’s pretty great if you get that once or twice in your life, and I did!”

Hall and his community taught me to embrace the fact that college football is the dumbest sport on the planet. The culture surrounding it is unfathomable to those that didn’t grow up with it. That is what makes it so much damn fun to watch and talk about.

The real testament to Hall’s writing talent is when he throws a curve ball and blows your mind with the perfect, poignant metaphor. The perfect breakdown of the Tuscaloosa crowd’s response to Tennessee Vols defensive back Rashaan Gaulden giving them the middle finger was written by the same guy that intertwined Tom Waits’s “God’s Away on Business,” life in the Florida suburbs, and an iconic play from the 1993 Sugar Bowl to illustrate the moral compromise you have to accept in order to be a college football fan.

That play was Alabama safety George Teague running down Miami’s Lamar Thomas and stripping the ball away, when it appeared the Canes receiver was going to sprint into the end zone untouched. The play is iconic amongst the Bama fanbase, and the reality is that it didn’t count. A linebacker had lined up offsides, so while all of us that were in the Louisiana Superdome that night had just witnessed something amazing, while that highlight is shown over and over again in Bryant-Denny Stadium before every game, according to the record books, it never happened.

I told Hall that I have always thought that column was his masterpiece. He thanked me and then launched into an explanation of why that non-play resonates with fans that reminds why Bomani Jones said Spencer Hall’s voice is “all at once highly educated and rural Southern.”

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“I think the reason people are so passionate in the sport is that it is anchored in a lot more than the sport itself. I think those moments themselves are often free floating in people’s memories and don’t really budge when in fact they are tied to very specific things and very specific people in your life,” Hall says. “College football isn’t the only place that happens, but it happens particularly in college sports because the communities are closer, the locales are often smaller and/or less well-defined. They’re less covered territory than what capital-letter mass media tended to write about, you know?

“We all know how New York felt about Joe DiMaggio in the 1940s and 50s because there was an entire apparatus pointed at it. I feel like if you talk about what LSU has meant to people that follow LSU or if you follow the history of USC football in LA, you get some interesting stories that haven’t necessarily been covered as well or as closely”

He has a different favorite column though. Hall points to a piece he co-authored alongside Holly Anderson that featured the duo sending up a past ESPN trope of debating “what is most now”.

Hall called those kinds of debates “the foundation for the rotten, confrontational talking head type vibe that dominates how we talk about sports now.” Not only did it feel good to goof on them, but it felt good to notice others enjoying those tropes being goofed on.

“It’s just a dialog with some kind of oddball photoshop thrown in. It was the first time when I thought ‘Oh goodness, this is extremely fun, and other folks seem to think so too.’”

If the Covid-19 pandemic has given us anything, it is time. In Hall’s case, it is what led to the furlough from Vox Media and SB Nation that then turned into him taking a buyout. He says that has given him a chance to think. Like anyone else, he is eagerly awaiting the return of sports, but it’s not the action on the field he misses most.

“The value in it for me is talking about them in the community and the connection. I think that’s the thing that gets really addictive. It’s the connection with readers or listeners, or the people that follow you for the exact cash value of zero dollars on Twitter.”

For Hall, sports and college football in particular, will always be a vessel. He describes it as using the sport “as a side door” to the story he really wants to tell or the point he really wants to make. College football seems to be the sport perfectly built for that style of writing.

“What he gets so well about [college football] is that it is a decidedly human thing. What is interesting about it is all the weirdos that are surrounding this thing,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones says of Spencer Hall. “This is an industry that is fueled by regular people that take their hard-earned money and give it to the football team, not necessarily for tickets. Like, they tithe to it!”

The next story Spencer Hall wants to tell is about college football. The vessel will be the Old West. He and three other writers that recently took buyouts from Vox Media have teamed up with artist Tyson Whiting to create The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA.

The Sinful Seven: Sci-fi Western Legends of the NCAA

It is an illustrated e-book that will use a Western motif to tell the story of the founding of the NCAA. The five are selling it using a pay-what-you-want model, which so far has been pretty successful.

“What makes this a lot of fun is the ties are already there,” Hall says of the project. “Calling something like the early days of college athletics and the foundation of the NCAA, something like the fall of the Old West, that’s not a stretch. That’s how frontiers usually go.  It starts with people doing whatever they want, then someone tries to establish an order and not necessarily doing that out of altruism.”

Hall is quick to give Whiting credit for where the book stands right now. He says that it is the illustrations that will make The Sinful Seven memorable.

“Tyson’s work is going to be the only one anybody remembers. People might as well know his name.”

Pre-orders for The Sinful Seven are just the latest piece of evidence of the devotion of Hall’s audience. When it was announced that he, Richard Johnson, Jason Kirk, and Alex Kirshner would be furloughed by Vox, advertisers Homefield Apparel and Cowbucker released special products to raise money for them. Hundreds of fans took to Twitter to directly call out Vox for not understanding what they had in Hall and his cohorts at the recently launched college football boutique site Banner Society.

That devotion, in addition to his talent, would make Spencer Hall an attractive addition for any sports media brand. It could also make it possible for him to find success on his own if he wanted to launch something on his own. He certainly has the talent to generate enough written and podcasting content to make whatever subscription price tag he settles on worth it to his fans.

Hall knows that the debate between starting his own platform versus sending out résumés is one he’ll have to have with himself eventually. Sure, The Athletic just laid off a number of writers and ESPN talent have been asked to take pay cuts, but at some point those brands and others like them will be ready to hire again. When they are, Hall is likely going to be very high on everyone’s wishlist.

It’s rare to find a sports writer that turns to the wisdom of French Enlightenment era philosophers when thinking about their next move. Jason Whitlock didn’t mention relying on the wisdom of Descartes when he was asked about starting his own media brand. Clay Travis didn’t talk about Immanuel Kant when stories were written about the expansion of Outkick the Coverage. That’s where Hall is different.

“There’s an old story, often attributed to Voltaire, but that attribution isn’t exactly solid historically speaking,” he says. The story involves the night of the man’s death. A priest comes to his bedside and asks if he renounces Satan.

10 Things You Should Know About Voltaire - HISTORY

“In the story, the character, Voltaire or whoever it is, says ‘Now now now, this isn’t the time to be making enemies,'” Hall says and we share a laugh. “In terms of what’s next, whether you could do it independently or with a group of people or corporate partners, I don’t think there is one answer out there. That’s not just for me. That’s for everyone. It’s not an industry strong on stability right now, so keeping every imaginable platform or option imaginable that you can do is a real strong play across the board.”

What Hall has created in the past would be impossible to duplicate, even for him. His reputation both amongst his audience and his peers is such though that anyone interested in working with Hall knows that he is the type of talent that keeps you looking forward instead of back.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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