Beyond an occasional chirping bird, moody cricket or moaning drone, there is wistful silence at Augusta National, the most jarring sports reminder yet of our 2020 mind bog. The raw absence of noise — those euphoric eruptions from patrons that crash off Georgia trees and beckon the golfing gods — only frames a silhouette that strikes me as one part sadness, one part surrender. A Masters in November is a gallery without art, a garden lacking its exploding technicolor.
We see Tiger Woods, 19 months after he made the grounds tremble, draining another birdie putt, nearly making a hole-in-one and poking up the familiar old-school leaderboard. But where were the shrieks, the rumbles? We observe the struggling and scatter-shooting hulk, Bryson DeChambeau, immediately lost in the bushes and then in the drink of Rae’s Creek. Where were the murmurs, the groans? Who stole our energy, our soul, our Masters?
“Certainly, it’s a much different atmosphere. The electricity is just not there,” said Woods, who managed his own power current in a bogey-free first round. “There are so many shots where we don’t know where the ball ends up — there’s no reaction. We have to ask the camera guys, `Where’s the ball?’”
As sports connoisseurs, we can manage football, basketball and baseball games without fans in the stands. The Masters? Without galleries? It’s another universe, and many players are discombobulated. “The crowds have a massive impact on what makes the tournament so special,” Jordan Spieth said.
“It dilutes the joy of playing the Masters,” Billy Horschel said. “Honestly, it’s not going to be fun without the crowds.”
And Woods? “They helped me win,” he said of the joyful outbursts during his epic comeback victory. “The support that I had, the energy that was around the property, it was electric that day.” Once disdainful of fans, he dearly misses the four-day roar now, saying, “It echoes. It travels. You can figure out who’s doing what, and the roars for certain people are louder than others. It’s unlike any other place in the world.”
Until it became something naked, lonely and unrecognizable, paralyzed like the rest of Planet Earth by the coronavirus despite the considerable wealth and power of the club membership. “It’s weird,” Brooks Koepka said, “because you can see almost every hole when you’re standing on the No. 1 tee, you can look out and see everything. I’m not used to that.”
Yet, numbing visuals aside, it’s nonetheless vital to America’s lagging spirit that this annual masterpiece carry on without pink azaleas, white dogwoods and the relative exclusion of humanity. Long known as the one sporting event that swallows every person playing in it, including Woods and Nicklaus and Palmer and certainly the upstart DeChambeau, it’s up to the participants, for once, to carry the weekend and uphold the pomp. The colors are browner, with orange and gold tints amid the predominant green, and the waters are murkier. Pine straw is everywhere, too. So be it. As patriarch Bobby Jones would have wanted, the golf must be bigger than the spectacle, assuming that is possible.
“I don’t see how it will be any different,” said the retiring CBS coordinating producer, Lance Barrow, who’s shaping his 44th and final Masters. “We’re going to show the person who wins the tournament and all of the ones challenging. From our standpoint in the TV truck, it will be just like any other Masters.”
Actually, it is a Masters unlike any other, as Jim Nantz hopefully doesn’t say too often. But at least we have a Masters this year, something its cousin in prestige, Wimbledon, can’t say over in London. It was important that Augusta National not only proceed with its treasure but dazzle it up with new camera angles, two drones — and, in a twist formerly unthinkable in a staid culture, an ESPN “College GameDay” show on Saturday morning, out by the ninth hole. College football is close to a COVID-19 collapse, especially in the Deep South, but the Masters survives as winter nears, so important to the national psyche that the NFL adjusted its Sunday schedule to accommodate a final round that should end before 4 p.m. Why so early? Sunset, remember, is at 5:24.
It would be shocking, though — and humiliating for CBS — if King Football knocked the Masters conclusion off the network. As first reported by Sports Business Daily, the contingency plan for any Augusta runover past 4, when late-afternoon NFL games start on CBS, is to flip live coverage of the final holes to ABC, along with lesser outlets such as CBS Sports Network, CBSSports.com and Masters.com. Imagine if Woods wins again in an all-time sports moment after CBS, the network of the Masters since 1956, asks viewers to reach for the clicker and find another channel? A regular-season NFL game is NOT bigger than any Masters, but CBS Sports chief Sean McManus actually agreed to this, saying in a teleconference, “We do have quite a bit of pad in between the final putt and when NFL football starts. But we’ll be ready and we’ll work with our partners as we always do and figure it out.”
What the hell?
Don’t worry about the ratings. They’ll be solid, or perhaps spectacular if Woods remains in contention. Why? It’s the Masters. “I miss the patrons. I’d love it if they were here,” first-round maestro Paul Casey said. “But there’s this vibe, this aura about Augusta National, this intangible, something you can’t measure. There’s not a lot of people, but it’s still exciting to be out there.”
“We didn’t look like we were going to play this at one point,” Woods said. “To have this opportunity is awesome. It’s a very different world. To just have the chance to compete for a green jacket is great.”
Unlike the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports leagues, the motivation for Augusta National wasn’t money. Golf, with its wide expanses and lack of close human contact on and off the course, is the sport most conducive to playing in a pandemic. The usual April start date wasn’t possible, especially after the NCAA canceled March Madness and MLB shut down its 162-game schedule. But Augusta still could honor its traditions and not back down to the virus as long as fans weren’t on the premises. “Ultimately, we determined that the potential risks of welcoming patrons and guests to our grounds in November (were) simply too significant to overcome,” chairman Fred Ridley said. “Augusta National has the responsibility to understand and accept challenges associated with this virus and take the necessary precautions to conduct all aspects of the tournament in a safe manner.”
That’s why all we’re seeing, other than the players and caddies, are a few members, a few course officials, a few volunteers, a few camera people, a few reporters and just one guest per player. Nothing is the same, not even a green jacket ceremony that has been called off, though the traditional Butler Cabin TV presentation will happen. Thank God. “We do think Butler Cabin is something that is really not only part of the history but emblematic of what the Masters is all about — giving the champion the green jacket,” Ridley said. “Viewers may be seeing part of that room that they haven’t seen before because we are going to be more spread out, but we will have the same people in the cabin with the same basic ceremony, and I think we can do it appropriately.”
Lost in Augusta’s surreal daze has been another development once thought impossible: A nod to racial injustice and inequality in America. I covered Woods’ breakthrough at the 1997 Masters, when the place reeked of white supremacy; I was in a restroom on the course when I heard someone refer to Woods with the N-word. Going on 24 years later, the club and three corporate partners — AT&T, IBM, Bank of America — are contributing $10 million to help save two historic Black communities not far from the course. This as Ridley was announcing that Lee Elder, the Masters’ first Black player in 1975, will share honorary-tee-shot honors next April with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Referring to the “unrest that we have witnessed throughout our country,” Ridley called it the “first step in the journey to uplift these underserved communities and, importantly, to promote generational change and the opportunity for economic mobility all Americans deserve.”
What’s next? Changing the Masters name to something less racist-sounding?
I sense the rest of the sports world could crash catastrophically, and the Masters would be the last event standing. It would be larger than life if Woods won again, but beyond that mind-bender, or another DeChambeau quake, does it really matter who wins this year? “We get to compete for a green jacket. As a player, that’s all we care about,” Phil Mickelson said.
“It’s not the same as what it is in April because it can’t be,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think everyone is just so grateful that there is a Masters this year and we’re playing in it.”
The 2020 champion, barring a repeat Tiger revelation, is Augusta National Golf Club. And if some sports leagues don’t make it through 2021 — a possibility with the President-elect’s COVID-19 “mandate” — at least we know that in just five months, with azaleas blooming, the Masters will return to its regular place in life’s calendar. I’d find a massive green jacket and wrap it entirely around the grounds, except, if you look around, the place is still green as ever.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.