In about 20 different sports radio markets, I have proposed a challenge. Come out of a random commercial break and play a generic sound-byte from baseball’s best player, Mike Trout. Give a T-shirt to the first listener (not the 9th or 10th caller) who recognizes his voice.
If you want to have even more fun, try replacing Trout with Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, or Jose Altuve.
On a different day, try the experiment again. Play a sound-byte from any of the following five former players. Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds, or David Ortiz. Would anyone listening NOT recognize their voices instantly?
This issue goes way beyond sports radio. There is a fundamental issue in 2021 where baseball’s brightest stars are relatively anonymous as national sports figures. Other sports have icons that can be recognized with one name. Lebron, Giannis, even Tom (or Brady, but both are not needed).
Baseball is falling out of touch in so many ways. A sport that I began covering in 1996 feels so different from the game that is going to be played in 2021.
The on-field product is just part of the issue. In 2018, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark told me on my Sports with Friends podcast that baseball had 11,000 fewer balls hit in play that season than in 2008.
Before you comment on this article and suggest that this data is coming from an old man sitting on a porch with a transistor radio yearning for the days of Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, 2008 was NOT that long ago.
Still, the issue that this column is about is that people don’t know who the stars are, and there is nothing pulling fans into the sport.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is a breath of fresh air. Still, I haven’t seen him making the media rounds outside of some Padres’ Zoom calls.
The people in charge at MLB these days don’t have their eyes on the actual prize. They need to address the countless number of strikeouts and how the probability of a comeback is less than 25%. That means, if a team has a lead after six innings, you might want to find the remote.
Think about our limited time each day to consume sports. If I told you you had only 30 minutes a night to watch sports. If it’s the NBA, you would choose the last five minutes of the game. NCAA hoops are the same thing. The same goes for a hockey or football game.
But baseball? You would watch the first few innings because the end of a game is slower than the beginning.
In 2018, during the All-Star Game, the word BORING was trending on Twitter.
When I see people show passion for the game, I often check their age if they reveal it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Nine out of ten times that person is over 35 years old. If you are reading this and you are younger, you are the exception, not the rule.
I covered the Colorado Rockies from 1996-1998. That team had a sellout streak. They were called the Blake Street Bombers. In 1997, I saw 75 games of Larry Walker’s MVP year.
1998 was a magic year for baseball. I saw Mark McGwire with his shirt off. He had the thickest neck I’d ever seen. He looked like Bill Bixby about to turn into Lou Ferrigno.
After the All-Star Break, I moved to Seattle and covered the Mariners. That team was made up of Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez (We never called him A-Rod then. The mention of his name gave me an idea of a future column.), Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson.
Those guys were rock stars. The Big Unit. Buhner was called Bone. Fans called Griffey “Junior.” If you knew him, you called him “Griff.” I still call him Griff. He claims he made my career.
Regardless of how this 2021 season plays out, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires on December 1. Nothing beyond that means anything for the sport of baseball.
Negotiate, and make a deal that helps fix the gameplay. Then, let the players say and do anything they want. Hats backward, music blaring, whatever comes up. Introduce yourself to people younger than 30 years old.
Hopefully, the drama of a pennant race and a swift pace of-play can be trending on Twitter. Maybe that will give current players the opportunity to become the household names that Jeter and Ortiz were.
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.