Meet The Market Managers: Mary Menna, Beasley Boston
“You have to do what’s right, and when what’s easy and what’s right are the same thing, you know you’ve hit the jackpot.”
In her radio life, Mary Menna only knows one place. A Jersey girl by birth, Mary has been working in Boston radio ever since she attended college there. She started as an original promotions assistant at WBCN. Now she runs Beasley’s six-station cluster in the city, which includes 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Everyone knows the Sports Hub’s track record of success: monster ratings, reliable revenue, and more than a few Marconi Awards. Since it’s launch, it has become one of the dominant brands in Boston let alone across the country. That’s why when Mary learned there might be a chance to bring the station into the Beasley family, she jumped.
In this latest edition of the Meet the Market Managers series presented by Point To Point Marketing, I chat with Mary about play-by-play relationships, the previous challenge of replacing Mike Thomas, managing a cluster through a pandemic on the fly, and much more. Check it out.
Demetri Ravanos: Tell me a little bit about what the conversations were like at Beasley when you realized that there was a legitimate opportunity to bring 98.5 The Sports Hub in-house.
Mary Menna: So that was in 2017. We were at an NAB Conference in whatever city it was in during that year. Caroline Beasley asked me to go to her suite for a meeting, which I did, and in that meeting she said “Normally I would make you sign an NDA, but you’re going to swear that you’re not going to say anything to anyone. And I said, “I promise.”. She’s my CEO! She told me, “There is an opportunity for us to buy a spin off from the Entercom/CBS deal. What would you want?”. I said, “the only station I want is Sports Hub.” She said, “that’s the only one you want?” I said, “that’s the only one I want.”
Then I think she went and talked to David. I think Entercom would have wanted to keep WEEI anyway, because WEEI was a cornerstone of their company at the time. It was the biggest station they had, and they had a lot invested in it, not to mention a lot of emotional investments in it as well.
We initially talked about perhaps doing a two station deal for two stations and in the end it became the Sports Hub for Magic 106.7 plus cash.
DR: Was it a situation where you and Caroline had the conversation and you had to be quiet about it until the deal was done? Or were you able to share the news and strategize in your building before the deal was announced?
MM: I was not able to share it with anyone, but a hurricane happened that year. I think the hurricane was hitting Naples at the time. After that meeting, I brought Caroline back to Boston and the joke was we were kidnapping her and not letting her leave. She worked out of our Boston office for several days, and during that time she brought in our VP of programming, Cadillac Jack. But it wasn’t up to me to bring anyone in. It was up to her. It was her secret.
She bought Cadillac in on it and then we strategized it. We didn’t want to give up Magic because that was our flagship in Boston at the time, the largest station that we had. But that was the deal. We had to give them Magic. So we did.
DR: So the station then comes into your building, and it was a really interesting dynamic because Phil Zachary ends up leaving Boston’s Entercom cluster to move to Hartford, and Mark Hannon, who had a major role in building the Sports Hub along with Mike Thomas as part of CBS Radio, now moves over to Entercom.
I would imagine that there were guys on the Sports Hub staff wondering what this change was going to mean for them and their options. How did you handle talking to them, making them feel welcome, and making it clear that Beasley had a vision for the brand’s future?
MM: When that happened, it affected four different companies in the marketplace. iHeart got some spin-offs, we got the Sports Hub, CBS and Entercom were merging, and people didn’t know which boat they were going on. Then it was all held up by the DOJ. You had people in conference rooms all over the city waiting for a tentative time of when we’d be able to announce it, and we were all going to announce it at the same time, but were waiting on the DOJ.
We thought we had a certain time all set but then the DOJ got held up. We took them out of the conference rooms because we thought, “well, we can’t let them sit there any longer,” but then once we did that, maybe 20 minutes later, we got them all back in and announced what was happening.
There was a lot of speculation going around the marketplace even before that. Nobody knew who was getting what or where they were going. Mark and I are friends, and Alan at iHeart and I are really good friends, because I worked there for a million years and we worked together. Some of the transition was made easier because of those relationships. We all wanted to do the right thing for our people because they’re the ones that were being displaced, and they didn’t know what was happening to their livelihoods, their families, their jobs, and all of that stuff.
I had already set up a meeting. I was going to be able to go into the CBS building and meet with The Sports Hub staff, and then come back here. Mark would then come here to meet with our people. I went to the CBS building with some of my key people. We did a meeting. Mark introduced me. They could tell that Mark and I had a good relationship and thought, “OK, well, let’s see if he likes her and she likes him, we’re going to be OK.” You know, it’s like parents are getting divorced and you want to make sure that the kids are OK, right? What we announced at that meeting was “we have a very limited amount of time here. We wanted to come and welcome you and introduce ourselves, and answer any of the questions that you might have that we might be able to answer now, and just tell you it’s going to be OK, but bear with us.”
I scheduled a cocktail party, because I do like cocktails, that afternoon at a bar/restaurant right near their office. So I said, “if anybody would like to get to know us better, we’re going to have a few other managers that aren’t here at this meeting, come over and join us. We’ll be there at 4:00. You can come by and have a drink with us.”
I always think that you can break the ice better in a social situation rather than in a big group meeting where people are afraid to speak. So we did that. We had a great time and rolled out the red carpet. I think that was really just a good way to deal with a really difficult situation, because we ended up not taking over the station for another month. They were in a trust, so that adds a whole other layer of corporate weirdness because when they’re in a trust, we’re not really allowed to deal with them. We were able to do small stuff, but we couldn’t make decisions. The trust makes decisions. They were still in the other building for quite some time because we had to build out studios. There was a little bit of lag time.
The sales people ended up coming over before the rest so sales and programming were disjointed because they couldn’t see each other. It was just a series of stuff. It wasn’t until July after the deal was done that the studios were completely done, and they are beautiful. They’re also TV studios. It’s not like you put up a couple of boards. There had to be a lot of cameras, lighting, more cable, and other technology because two of our shows broadcast on NBC Sports Boston.
DR: Particularly when you have the sales staff in the Beasley building and the programming staff not yet moved over, how important was it in your mind to connect with Mike Thomas and make sure he was able to sell what Beasley wanted to do with the station to his staff, or make sure his staff understood what Beasley didn’t plan to do with the station that some people may have feared?
MM: Mike had an office here too. He went back and forth a lot. So Mike and I were attached at the hip.
You know, here’s the thing. In 2021, we’re used to remote communication, right? But in 2017 it was a little clunkier. Now you’d say “What was the problem? We do remote communication 22 times a day.” But at that point it was a little different.
You had to be respectful. It was someone else’s building. It’s not like I could decide on the drive in “I’m going to pop in and see T&R this morning, and just sit in on the show.” It wasn’t my house. You had to be respectful. If I needed to have an insurance meeting there with people, I would go through the right channels because you can’t just show up unannounced.
Mike had a little bit more leeway because we had to have an office in that building. We had to be respectful of the boundaries between all of the companies. I think iHeart had some people in there for a while too. So it was just a really weird time. But like I said, if it was 2021 after a pandemic, it would be a little more normal. We worked through it though. You try to build relationships over the phone. You have in-person lunches with people. That was a great thing. You do a cocktail at the end of the day with someone. You go to games with them. If they’re broadcasting at games, you stop by the broadcast booth to spend a little time with them. We were able to build those relationships, we just didn’t see them every day.
It was great to finally bring them all together and welcome them into the building on a full time basis. I think we migrated different departments over that period of time and the last people to come over were when we flipped the switch on a weekend and brought the on air team over.
DR: I appreciate the detail on all of that. It allows industry people who follow Boston to get a sense of what that period of time was like. Let’s fast forward a bit though. Mike Thomas moved on at the end of 2019 to Chicago where he’s now the Market Manager for ESPN 1000. That meant you had arguably the most coveted PD job available in sports radio in decades. I’m sure your phone and inbox were full of messages and members of your corporate team were being hit up regularly. What was it that gave you the confidence that Rick Radzik could ascend to the top job and keep the brand thriving?
MM: Rick was the assistant program director for the entire duration of the existence of the station, so he has a lot of institutional knowledge. This radio station, as many sports stations do, has so many moving pieces: three on-air hosts in every day part, four play-by-play properties, live weekends, etc.. He knew how all those moving pieces worked.
We interviewed a lot of people, and I’ll say that the team really rallied for Rick. As a matter of fact, Marc Bertrand had bumper stickers made up for him. In addition, they started a write-in campaign and got signatures around the building. It was really heartwarming to see the team wanted him and was rallying for him. I did talk to people and made sure that they didn’t just want Rick because Rick was going to be easy on them or he was the person that they knew. I always say that when you have an open position like that, you have to interview a lot of people because you can’t do what’s easy. You have to do what’s right. When what’s easy and what’s right are the same thing, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
It became clear that was what was right and easy was the same person – Rick. When those two things come together you know you’re making the right decision that affects so many people. If you put the wrong PD in a situation like The Sports Hub, where so many big personalities are involved, it can screw up the whole thing.
Then I looked at Rick in his first year in that job and he gets hit with a pandemic. In March he gets hit with the end of live sports. We’ve got to punt, kick, and try to figure this all out. If there was somebody in that job that wasn’t familiar with the infrastructures of the Patriots, Bruins and the Celtics, and didn’t know the inner workings of our talent and scheduling, it would have been a disaster. But he had all that institutional knowledge.
If we had somebody from another market who didn’t know all of the personalities, sports teams, and simple things like ‘how do you get from TD Garden to here?’ and capable of making those lines work, it could’ve been rough. We’re really, really lucky, and I was very proud that in his first year in the job, Rick propelled himself onto your list at #5. Thank you for that. I think that’s a true testament to his abilities and what he’s done in this year.
DR: Anyone that I’ve had a conversation with about Rick is a true believer with him in that position. I’ve never heard from anyone where the reaction was “I can’t believe they’re going with the APD instead of, candidate X.”
MM: I think that if someone does a really good job and works really hard for 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, whatever the case may be, that person should receive extra consideration. Especially if they’re great.
You don’t want people to have to leave your organization to grow. You should be able to grow your own people. That’s what we do as coaches, right? We want to mentor our people and make them better.
What’s the message? Once you get great, you need to go to another market? That’s not something that you really want in terms of a really solid organization and keeping it going into the future.
DR: Speaking of Rick’s institutional knowledge of The Sports Hub, you guys had a moment last year where Fred Toucher needed to step away from the morning show for a period of time. That show is a powerhouse, not just in Boston, across the format, nationwide too. Everybody knows what ‘Toucher and Rich’ do. I wonder if you or Rick ever allowed yourselves to entertain or even sat down to make a plan for “what is our plan in mornings if Fred said he couldn’t do this anymore? What if he didn’t want to continue?”
MM: I never thought that that would happen, and I do want to say that I’m so proud of Fred for being able to make that determination and do what was necessary to get himself in a much better place. And he is in such a great place.
I am so proud of him every day. He’s doing a great job. His show sounds better and his life is great and his family is great. I’m just thankful that we were able to come to that point where he made that turn and he did it himself. I never planned for anything other than Fred coming back. I believed in him!
DR: I think a lot of people across radio, regardless of format, recognize that sports can be an expensive endeavor, particularly in a major market, when you have the kind of success that you guys do. When you told Caroline “this is the only Boston station that I want” and you factor in all of the expenses necessary to operate a brand of this magnitude, I imagine it isn’t cheap. Do you ever feel you’re under a microscope or certain things need to happen year in and year out to justify the amount it takes to run a station like The Hub?
MM: I think it’s a rate of return, but you’re right. Sports is expensive. Rights fees and personalities cost a lot. Live morning shows on music stations are expensive. Original compelling content is expensive. It’s not just repurposed content. It’s original programming and that costs money. So the rate of return has to be there.
Fortunately, we have a fabulous sales team and the station works, so it’s a lot easier to generate revenue using a platform that generates results for clients. The math on this station, even though the expenses are extraordinarily high, it works because the clients and partners are there and we do generate strong revenues. The clients come back because the radio station is a powerhouse and it works for them and helps them generate business.
DR: On the subject of math, you have three of the four major play by play partnerships in the city of Boston. You’ve have had all of them for a while too. Are we past the point now where you have to do the risk/reward math whenever these deals come up for renewal?
MM: Play-by-play, really is not a liquidating entity, especially in the days when you’re traveling to all the games. Now, I’d like to get back to being able to travel to away games. Going to Tahoe this weekend was terrific. I mean, it had some ice problems, but it was great. It was great to be able to call live sports live at an outdoor venue.
Maybe some stations do it differently where they actually make money on it, but I think play by play is a loss leader type of situation. It’s essential to the radio station to keep it vibrant and rich and have those teams as part of the fabric of the radio station. What comes with being the flagship station of those teams is you have access to other programming that’s outside of your regular play-by-play windows.
I think it’s an important piece to make the radio station compelling with content and be fully integrated with the local teams. I don’t think it’s ever something that’s going to work on a spreadsheet. If it can liquidate, that’s great. But sometimes it doesn’t liquidate. If you can break even, that’s a win because they don’t always break even.
It’s an important component to programming, you know what I mean? I don’t think we look at our personalities and say, “hey, what’s the rate of return?” It’s an art and a science. And part of this is art.
DR: I think about something like Tom Brady leaving town and the created content it produced in Boston for the better part of a year.
MM: It still does.
DR: Right, so is the payoff there the access you guys have that lets you follow every single step of the process with the Patriots because you are the partner? Or is the payoff to something like that less about what people tune in for with the games and more about what it brings people to hear Toucher and Rich on Monday or Felger & Mazz on Friday leading into the weekend?
MM: I think there’s multiple touch points in a relationship. I don’t look at it as it’s just a payoff. Our relationship with the Patriots is an incredibly important relationship that goes back to the WBCN days. I think BCN was one of the first stations that actually put football on rock radio. It was definitely an early adopter.
The Patriots are a dynasty here. Even if they don’t have a Super Bowl season like this year, people still care about the New England Patriots. It’s in our blood. We want them to win, but even when they don’t win we still love them.
The Kraft organization is incredible. One of the first things I did when we acquired The Sports Hub was extend our relationship far into the future. I added many, many years onto that contract knowing that Tom Brady would never outlast the length of our contract. Even if he stayed and didn’t go to Tampa, it’s still a contract that far exceeds a period of time where Tom would still be playing. I believe in the Patriots. I believe in their organization, and I believe in the Kraft’s. So I went for the long bomb on that one.
DR: Given what we just saw in the Super Bowl, are you confident that the contract length will outlast Tom Brady?
MM:Yes. It’s a loooooong deal!
Besides what it gives us in terms of the content and what it gives us in terms of stature and partnership, it also gives us something for our clients as well. It gives us access. It gives us the ability to entertain them in a luxury box. It’s the opportunity to have them on the field before a game or visit the broadcast booth to feel what a broadcast is like. It allows our major partners to touch, feel and get up close and personal. That kind of access is is gold.
DR: Analyzing your own career for a minute, you’ve ascended to an important position overseeing a group of highly successful brands. But everyone can get better at something. What are some of the things you feel you need to learn still in order to confidently take that last step in your professional life?
MM: I think acquired knowledge just happens. Don’t forget I was in the same building for 25 of 28 years. I took a three year sabbatical early on and went somewhere else, so I was always just a sponge and available if somebody needed something done. Even if it wasn’t in my department. If I could help, I did, and I learned something from that. I think I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve ever come in contact with. They all make you better as you create your jigsaw puzzle of experiences.
A lot of people aspire to someday be a market manager. Well, I always said that I wanted to be the market manager of Kiss 108, but by the time I got to that job, the job had changed and become a lot harder. I wanted the job when a gentleman named John Madison had it, like in the 90s. I think whatever you do to prepare is great, but on the job training is invaluable. Whatever you thought you needed to know, it’s great that you had that as a reserve, but you need to learn more everyday.
For instance, nobody could’ve prepared for April 2020, right? There was no manual. What are you going to do? How are you going to get all your people out of the building by March 16th? How are you going to be able to keep the place running and keep everyone safe while you still have people coming to the studios? And where do you find masks in March? And Purell when there’s a shortage? I thought “Oh my God! I’m going to call a record label, Big Machine, because they have a bar in Nashville that’s changing their vodka distillery into sanitizer. Great!” You know, “Hey, Big Machine, Can I get some of it?”
I think you have to be resourceful. We’re in radio. We know how to put things together with band-aids right?
When all of this started, I just made a list. What do we need? How do I wrap the building in Plexiglas when I have no budget? I learned that we needed MERV filters. I researched (Google is my friend) and figured out how many of them we had to have. Then, when it came to Plexiglas, I looked up the top 10 glass companies in the market. “Everybody gets to call one person, so go get an appointment with somebody to see if they want to be the official glass company of the Sports Hub or whatever. Go figure it out!”
People weren’t spending cash then, so we did a lot of trade. We upgraded a lot of our systems to make the place safer. That’s not something that’s in a “How to be a market manager” manual. That’s something that you just learn by having boots on the street.
DR: That’s something that never had to be in a “how to be a human being manual” until last year.
MM: Right, so you figure out. I didn’t have a manual for how to be safe in the workplace and deal with Covid, so I made one. The on air staff, those were the only people here for a few weeks. They were so used to not seeing anyone that I thought ‘how do I make them feel safe once the sales staff start coming in?’
We’re lean in people by nature. I’m Italian. I hug people. I kiss on the cheek. We had to teach our team how to be lean out people like, “hey, you’re getting too close. You need to move back two more feet.”
Everybody’s figured that out now, a year later, but in the beginning, when they first started coming back in, it was a learning process. In these type of situations, you just have to pay attention to what’s going on, think about what will help your people stay safe while working, and find different ways to get through it. And if need be, write your own manual if one doesn’t exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids. Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and actively shunning the sport.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.