Only three sports franchises on Planet Earth are worth more than the Los Angeles Lakers, home of Hollywood gold, LeBron James, celebrity fans, the Laker Girls, a $3-billion local broadcast deal and 16 NBA title banners. Just last week, Forbes estimated the team valuation at $4.4 billion, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys and New York’s Yankees and Knicks. Think about it: The Lakers are more valuable than all but one NFL franchise and all the world’s soccer clubs, including those in hallowed hubs Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester.
None of which stopped team controlling owner Jeanie Buss, beloved in southern California, from applying for and receiving a $4.6-million federal loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, a system purportedly designed for small businesses needing coronavirus relief. Not until the Lakers were outed by the Trump administration, which threatened criminal action against large companies trying to trick the program, did they return the money in April.
“I never expected in a million years that the Los Angeles Lakers, which I’m a big fan of the team — but I’m not a big fan of the fact they took a $4.6 million loan,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC. “I think that’s outrageous.”
I expected scathing commentary from the Los Angeles Times, armed with some of the best sports and news columnists in the business. But all I saw was a basic news story and scant letters to the sports editor, one from angry reader William Ford, who wrote what Bill Plaschke, Dylan Hernandez, Steve Lopez, Robin Abcarian and other Times voices did not write: “The Los Angeles Lakers just became the Los Angeles Takers in my book. Would you have returned the $4.6 million without the public shame caused by social media? You have shamed Elgin, Jerry, Kareem, James and Kobe and every player who has worn purple and gold, as well as an entire city.’’
Why the absence of similar biting words from Times regulars and the editorial page? Oh, let’s just say the billionaire who signs their checks might not have enjoyed anti-Lakers opinions from those on the payroll. Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner and executive chairman of the Times, has been a minority stakeholder in the Lakers since 2010. Back when they were playing games at Staples Center and not in the Disney World Bubble, Soon-Shiong often was seen courtside, high-fiving and hugging fellow fans after victories. Sometimes, Buss herself received his joyful congratulations. If there was no official edict to avoid the topic at the Times, there was a tacit understanding: To stay on good footing, do not criticize Buss in this matter, especially when Soon-Shiong — as part-owner — could be considered complicit in the failed loan-grab.
Such are the unethical invasions that are corrupting, if not killing, sports media in America. As the power and influence of rich leagues and owners continue to swallow fierce independence, too many editorial decisions are made with money in mind — such as, ignoring the boss’ conflict of interest to protect one’s regular paycheck. In some entanglements, cross-ownership of a sports franchise and media outlet means Plaschke and LeBron are in effect paid by the same person, which also impacts Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, a hard-hitter whose checks are signed by John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox. All of which puts some local columnists — the last vestiges of watchdog commentary about an industry staggered by a pandemic and numerous recent scandals — in the same boat as ESPN and Fox Sports on-air talent and local-market talk show hosts.
If you’re working for The Man, how can you comment negatively about The Man? And if you can’t comment about The Man, why should any media consumer read, watch or listen when your credibility is compromised? The pandemic-driven upheaval of sports, in which no one is sure when and if leagues will return to some semblance of normalcy, has created a media culture of self-preservation and content suppression poisonous to a craft that has been softening for years.
Hear nothing, see nothing, check direct deposit on the 15th and 1st.
Tell J.A. Adande to add a new class — How To Kiss Ass And Keep Your Job 101 — to his curriculum in Northwestern’s sports journalism initiative.
I don’t need to rehash my existential concerns about ESPN, which long ago sold out to Big Sports — and the accompanying billions — and has been predictably giddy in covering a sports restart fraught with COVID-19 doubt and fallout. It might as well be renamed the NBA/NFL/MLB/NCAA Channel, and anyone who watches should realize the programming is an extension, in too many cases, of what the leagues want and want Bristol is only happy to give them. If you wonder why ESPN continues to pretend college football is around the corner, consider the company literally owns and operates the sport, to the point it will lose almost $1 billion in advertising alone if the season is canceled. Ethically, ESPN is a lost cause.
No, I’m focused on The Athletic, maybe the last-gasp option for those aspiring to write sports as a long-term livelihood. Struggling to support a subscription-based model while sports was on pause for months, the site has resorted to its own form of desperation. First, it laid off dozens despite raising $139.5 million in funding. Then, it sought sponsorships … within the very industry it is supposed to be covering independently and aggressively. The business site Front Office Sports reported Evan Parker, The Athletic’s general manager of business and editorial operations (job descriptions that shouldn’t be in the same title), has “set out to find sports teams, leagues and promotional partners who understood The Athletic brand’’ in hopes of boosting “image and subscriber count.’’
Next thing you knew, The Athletic was partnering with Major League Baseball and T-Mobile on a cringeworthy promotional giveaway — free one-year subscriptions to The Athletic and MLB.TV to T-Mobile/Sprint customers in the U.S.
The Athletic has sold out, too.
Even when Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich are breaking news about baseball — information often handed to them because MLB has a vested interest in The Athletic’s success — I’ve yet to see a word demanding, say, the cancellation of the season. Or doubting commissioner Rob Manfred’s competence, as some of us are doing, in the wake of virus outbreaks that have blitzed the Cardinals and Marlins. The dire situation cried for harsh commentary. What you initially got from Rosenthal was this: “MLB’s shifting approach raises questions around the sport.’’ He came back with a piece urging Manfred to cooperate with players, in their navigation of COVID-19, for the sport’s greater good.
That’s as good as he can do?
No, that’s all he’s allowed to do under the business parameters.
And do you honestly think legends such as Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons, who’ve served MLB to the degree they’ve been inducted in the Hall of Fame, are going to excoriate Manfred when they’d be biting the ownership hand that has fed them for decades?
When MLB returned late last month, followed by the NBA and NHL, The Athletic excitedly introduced a 40-part series called “The Comeback.’’ The idea: Wrap the resumption of sports around the greatest comebacks in sports history — as if a level-headed person would lump the pandemic in the same thought process as a Miracle at the Meadowlands.
Wrote Seth Davis, a college basketball guy with else nothing to do: “Anyone who thought sports wasn’t coming back probably doesn’t watch a lot of sports. Sure, things were looking bleak for a while. We were facing long odds, and in many ways we still do. But we’ve seen big comebacks before, haven’t we? A 3-0 deficit in the playoffs. A 25-point hole in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. Trailing by three goals at halftime of a Champions League final. We’ve seen other examples of people beating long odds. Athletes re-emerging from retirement, recovering from serious injuries, winning games and tournaments when they were supposedly well past their primes. Each time, the prospects for success seemed bleak. Each time, sports reminded us of the art of the possible. This is what we need from sports, now more than ever.’’
What we need, from sports, is for the outbreaks to stop. What we need, from The Athletic, is to call for an MLB shutdown. And what we need, from life, is for people to stop getting sick and dying. But, see, the sports world operates in a parallel universe in which a $4.4-billion basketball franchise thinks it can justify a PPP loan. The Lakers didn’t get their $4.6 million, and if anyone feels sorry for them, they’ll still reap $12 million from a Spectrum SportsNet deal because players and coaches spent extra weeks in Florida confinement — when they could have been with their families — so eight seeding games could be played.
The L.A. Times could have been all over that, too. Instead, an Oregonian report was accusing the Times of accepting $100,000 in advertising money from the Pac-12 in exchange for favorable and additional coverage of the conference. A 2018 e-mail from the league to Blake Richardson, a young Times staffer, promised him “all the access and info to become the best Pac-12 reporter out there.’’
I wonder how the late, great Jim Murray would be lampooning his own bosses for these sins. Just a guess: His column would be spiked.
Not that these pressures didn’t exist before the pandemic. I’ve faced numerous warnings from on high not to cover certain stories. A Cincinnati editor-in-chief discouraged us, when I was 26, from probing the beginnings of the Pete Rose gambling scandal because, hey, Pete was a local hero. A Chicago editor-in-chief, who had front-row Bulls tickets during the Michael Jordan Era, was upset when I broke a story that Scottie Pippen felt like “a statue’’ during one of Jordan’s playoff point binges. Another set of Chicago bosses, a publisher and editor-in-chief, chastised me for questioning why White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was in the bottom half of MLB payrolls, relenting only when they told me one day in the hallway, “Jerry didn’t buy a table for our event.’’ Another editor-in-chief asked if I was “anti-Semitic’’ as he tried to soften my coverage of Reinsdorf, only the most prominent owner in U.S. sports at the time. They often tried to intimidate and fire me, to no avail, and when Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called me “a f—— fag,’’ the bosses didn’t have my back, not surprising after they’d pulled my column condemning Sox fans for harassing wives of the Houston Astros during a World Series game in Chicago. When I asked one of the conflicted editors, who’d wanted me to wear a Sox cap in my column logo during that World Series, if he was a fan of the team, he nodded.
Sometimes, the official scoreboard clock in the United Center would stop — for several seconds — in the final minutes of Bulls games. Once, I could understand. Twice, three times, four? Given the immersive nature of gambling in the NBA culture, it was time to investigate. I was prepared to run a powerful, corroborated column; the editors were not because, you know, the NBA had called. Few of these people are anywhere near the media business today. Some are dead, figuratively if not literally.
I’ll never forget the words of Larry Wert, a major broadcasting executive who became a big shot at NBC, when he ran me off his radio station: “Jay, some of us go to business school and others go to journalism school.’’ This was followed a decade later by the story I love telling: An ESPN Chicago program director, Len Weiner, took me to an Arby’s near the station and demanded I sign documents that I wouldn’t criticize Reinsdorf’s White Sox and Bulls. When I refused, the station fired me a day after Christmas and claimed publicly that I had bad ratings, only to look downright fraudulent when the ratings were terrific. I’d like to say Reinsdorf and that station have flourished since then. In truth, both have been mostly in the dumper.
So, yes, if I were an L.A. Times columnist, I’d have criticized the Lakers. And the next day, after the piece was killed, I’d have been downsized if not pushed out the way a snidely irreverent Times columnist, T.J. Simers, was dumped years ago. Which explains why I’m here today, writing proudly for a media industry site that prioritizes independence over dirty business deals, and why I’m donating my compensation to journalism-related sites that hopefully hear what I’m saying.
But probably don’t.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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