Double standards in this industry chap my ass, as you probably know. But until media companies develop a consistent judicial system when assessing the on-air comments of talent — instead of riding whatever political force-field protects a particular boss — we’ll have bizarre days when Skip Bayless lands a new $32 million megadeal on the same afternoon Chicago sportscaster Mark Giangreco loses his gig.
In my mind, what Bayless said about Dak Prescott six months ago is far more damning than what Giangreco said in typical wise-cracking style during an ABC-7 newscast, suggesting anchor Cheryl Burton could “play the ditzy, combative interior decorator” on some hypothetical reality series. Should he have said it? No. Should he have been suspended? Yes. Should he have been let go? No, especially when Giangreco is known for such playful banter, one reason why the station, owned and operated by Disney Co., has been paying him ample sums for decades. Giangreco was foolish to say “ditzy,” which is sexist, but in the end, he directly offended exactly one person.
Bayless insulted millions with his most recent dip into idiocy. Yet, thanks to the megalomaniacal whims of Fox Sports, he was rewarded with millions. At a time in America when suicide hotlines never have been busier, he came off as a repulsive ignoramus when he suggested Prescott’s public disclosure of his depression battle was a sign of weakness. Not only was Bayless insensitive, he conveniently ignored the direct issue: Prescott’s brother had died months earlier of an apparent suicide. Shockingly, the host felt no compassion for the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, igniting a national firestorm.
“He’s the quarterback of America’s team,” Bayless said on “Undisputed,” his FS1 show. “The sport that he plays is dog-eat-dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot.”
In a tepid statement at the time, Fox said it only disapproved of Bayless’ comments, preferring to praise Prescott for “publicly revealing his struggle.” At that point, even Cleatus, the Fox robot, knew what was happening behind the scenes. The executives didn’t want to rebuke Bayless too much, knowing his contract soon was expiring … and that ESPN was courting him to return in a potential high-powered reunion with Stephen A. Smith. Never mind how Bayless had made Fox Sports seem heartless, desperate and attention-starved. The corporate directive: He couldn’t be allowed to flee to the competition, no matter what came out of his mouth.
So rather than take the smart path and let him walk — his ratings with co-host Shannon Sharpe always have been lukewarm in mornings, far behind those of Smith and Max Kellerman on “First Take” — Fox was lured into an absurd bidding war with ESPN. According to the New York Post, which first reported Bayless’ new deal, ESPN offered him a four-year, $30 million deal in August, a month before the Prescott debacle. For Fox, which always has felt inferior to ESPN in Big Sports Media wars, this became a matter of not letting Bristol flaunt the bigger penis. Bayless is nearing 70. He makes comments that make him seem 80. This would have been a chance to give the slot to a 2021-relevant talker, such as Nick Wright, at a considerably cheaper price.
Instead, Fox blinked.
And the laughter could be heard from Bristol, where Fox just committed to four more years of a host whose show is failing.
I, for one, always have been mystified by the “First Take” vs. “Undisputed” rivalry. The ratings of both shows never have remotely approached ours back when I was doing daily debating, on ESPN’s “Around The Horn.” But the Smith-Bayless duo brought ESPN the buzz it never had in mornings, which created a new ad revenue stream. When Fox launched FS1, it vowed to compete against ESPN’s debate shows, which gave Bayless the advantages of perfect timing and extraordinary leverage when his Bristol contract expired. He took the $6-million-per-year deal at Fox in 2016, prompting Smith and his WME agents three years later to demand and receive almost $8 million annually, citing Smith’s decisive ratings victory. This is where the top-this game should have ended. But the Fox bosses kept playing, prioritizing ego over common sense.
Now, they have quite the mess. Sharpe’s deal expires this summer. At $3 million per, he’ll want a dramatic bump into Bayless territory. I can’t imagine Fox saying yes, preferring to promote the rising commentary star, Emmanuel Acho, but also leaving a hole in the “Speak For Yourself” lineup. Whoever is paired with Bayless, know this: That show has no chance against “First Take,” even if Kellerman’s boxer shorts are in a wad over the Bayless offer.
Excuse me, but why are these sports networks allowing themselves to be bamboozled by loudmouths and their Hollywood agents? The shows aren’t being watched in big numbers. You could pay the hosts $1 million a year and it would be too much. But Fox is acting out of need, committing about $2 billion a season for its next package of NFL Sunday games and knowing weekday talk programming fuels the football and sports beast. Again, Bayless is the luckiest sportscaster on Earth, thanks to his negotiation “war” with good friend Smith. It confounds me how network executives can be so easily trumped, though it doesn’t help that Jerry Jones, who has Fox executives on speed dial, always has shepherded Bayless’ career.
By contrast, Giangreco had no leverage with the corporate suits. In racially tense Chicago, he lost when Burton — a prominent Black female personality — reportedly complained to management about his comment. As often happens in a parochial city encased in media bubble wrap, he stayed much too long — 39 years — and grew vulnerable as he neared 70. Time was when Chicago was a national media hotbed, ruled by Mike Royko, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel as the likes of Lester Holt and Brent Musburger passed through and the Gumbel brothers and Michael Wilbon never stopped calling it home. Now look at it. I could make a case that Kansas City is a better media market, certainly as a sportswriting cradle.
But this shouldn’t be the way Giangreco departs. Want more hypocrisy? Just hours earlier, another Disney property, ESPN, chose to keep college basketball analyst Dan Dakich after his latest regrettable Twitter spat, this time with a female college professor. After Johanna Mellis challenged Dakich to a swimming race, of all things, Dakich mocked her “bitching” and then took the pool challenge to mean she was making sexual advances toward him. ESPN gave him a pass, again. Yet Disney fires Giangreco, after enabling and encouraging his act since he joined the station in 1994. You don’t shoot the monster for doing what you pay him to do.
The anti-Giangreco crowd can say he made too many troublesome cracks through the years for a guy doing the sports. In 2017, he was suspended for this tweet about then-President Trump: “so obvious, so disturbing. America exposed as a country full of simpletons who allowed this cartoon lunatic to be `elected.’ ” During my long tenure as a Chicago sports columnist, I blistered Giangreco — in the Sun-Times and nationally in The Sporting News — for being out of the loop about the liver disease that was killing NFL great Walter Payton. It was well-known in the local sports media that Payton didn’t have much time, and his family asked that his condition be kept private. Giangreco didn’t get the memo, showing a photo of a weakened Payton and saying he looked “shriveled up.”
My agent at the time, Joel Weisman, happened to be Giangreco’s agent. I’ll never forget Weisman calling me out for criticizing a stablemate. Twenty-one years later, they should thank me for trying to do Giangreco a favor. Often, he couldn’t differentiate between a sportscast and open-mic night. Which, in the end, led to his demise.
It’s a fate I might be persuaded to support if it didn’t come the same day Skip Bayless, the man who mocked a depressed person, was showered with more riches. It’s a warped business, sports media, and it just got sicker.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.