Covering a team has never been more difficult than it is in 2020. Several factors have contributed to that, but none bigger than the lack of face-to-face communication for play-by-play broadcasters, radio hosts and reporters. With Covid protocols forcing all media sessions to be conducted via Zoom, it’s changed the way media has been able to get information from players and coaches.
Sure, press conferences via Zoom still give the opportunity to get quotes and sound bites, but losing the face-to-face aspect, as well as the all important one-on-one opportunities after games and practices, costs reporters and hosts the opportunity to have, amongst other things, intimate conversations that help develop a personal relationship with a current player or coach.
Instead of well-documented feature stories on athletes or comments from players and coaches that really let fans inside their personalties, we’re left with mostly meat and potatoes content that rarely strays away from the nuts and bolts of a game or practice.
Without the face-to-face interaction, it’s probably fair to say that reporters such as James Rapien of Sports Illustrated and the Locked On Network aren’t getting the same content they’re accustomed to.
“In a one-on-one setting it’s much different and I haven’t had one this year since May,” Rapien, who covers the Cincinnati Bengals, said. “You can joke around beyond football stuff and talk to them about their family, things like that, which, you can’t do a press conference environment anyway and that’s really what the Zoom calls are. It’s more of a news conference where you have eight different writers, 12 different TV reporters and a bunch of people that need certain clips about football. A lot of the small talk and jokes that humanize the players, and even the media, which, you use to try to gain the trust of the player, who you don’t know yet, that’s kind of gone, which certainly makes it challenging.”
Being the play-by-play announcer for a team, normally means there’s ample time to get any face-to-face interaction you need. There’s traveling with the team, staying with the team on the road and the usual prvivlege of being able to attend practices that most media can’t. But that’s changed this season and even the most trusted employees of the team are left searching for alternate ways to get the information they need.
“Access is relative,” said Paul Allen, Minnesota Vikings play-by-play voice. “I make my own access. They’ve been nice enough throughout the years to let me watch practice and I’ll even be in the head coach’s office. Mike Zimmer and I are friends, as much as we are co-workers, so a lot of that has been eliminated but I still have ways to get the information I need.
“I think the nuance of the non-obvious is probably lacking. Given that I’m an announcer, a race track announcer and I do radio show, I’m not media. They know they can trust me. If I’m chatting with coaches before or after practice, or players before and after practice, I get a lot of the nuance and the non-obvious that’s coming up in the games. I think some of that is probably lacking, not being around the coaches and players as much as I’m used to.”
Ari Temkin is a host on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network. Normally, he’s used to being at The Star, the Cowboys training facility, and getting the access he needs for both pregame and postgame shows. Instead, he’s relegated to the same conference calls as everyone else in the Dallas media. That’s obviously a disadvantage, seeing as he’s probably able to bring more unique content to his show with the normal access he has.
“This year, the Cowboys have really limited the amount of media access,” Temkin said. “Having just one representative per media outlet, it’s been difficult to get any access. Not having a face-to-face aspect changes a lot, because you’re forced to hear most of the stuff secondhand, and this job you want to hear it yourself so you can create your own narratives, opinions and perceptions off of it.
I covered the Spurs in San Antonio for years and when my first son was born, I didn’t go to very many games, because it was hard to leave my wife at home alone with a kid. I realized I could still watch the games and hear the press conferences online, but it’s just incredible to see the difference in being there in person, because it matters. You can see things such as how players interact with each other on the bench, how players interact with the coach, things they do during timeouts, these are all things that you can’t pick up on television. You have to be at the games to see it. That’s partial to the face-to-face interaction with these guys. I saw, just by taking a year off and not covering the Spurs in person, just how much of a difference it makes.”
Craig Way, the voice of the Texas Longhorns, hasn’t seen his normal access change as much as others, but there’s still big differences to his normal routine.
“It’s been a little bit different for me in terms of the access to the players, certainly,” Way said. “That’s probably been the biggest change more than anything. But I do a show with Coach Tom Herman each week, we’re distant and we even have plexiglass in between us, things like that. We record our pregame interview from a distance, as well. We’re still able to function the way we normally do,which is a little more logistically challenging. My meetings with the coordinators, in the past, they’ve been in person, but they’re now in separate meeting spots by Zoom. We still have our conversations and things of that nature so that part of it has been good.”
The truth of the matter is that nobody is at fault for the current situation. Sports information directors have to keep the safety of the players and coaches at the forefront at all times and the media has to respect protocol, as well as their own safety, and work around the guidelines given to them. It’s obviously not ideal for anyone, but it does point out how critical face-to-face interaction is at all level of media.
Let’s just hope that privilege returns back to normal soon.
“There was this idea that reporters shouldn’t ever be in the locker room, even pre-Covid,” said Rapien. “I think that’s a joke. Our jobs are much more different now than they were a year ago or eight months ago.”
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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