God help me. I don’t get it.
We are in what Sports Twitter has dubbed “Jim Nantz Season.” It’s when CBS flows perfectly from the NCAA Tournament right into coverage of The Masters. With apologies to the NFL, this is the stretch of 30 days on the sports calendar most synonymous with Nantz and his pseudo-folksy broadcast style.
There are plenty of people, both amongst fans and our colleagues, that live for this time. To them, Jim Nantz’s voice is synonymous with big moments in sports. His style is pure class and everything “that sports should be.”
I’m not one of those people. To me, Jim Nantz’s voice and persona are so schmaltzy that I have taken to referring to him as the human embodiment of any nondescript item or brand. He’s a human Entenmann’s crumb cake, a human Vinyard Vines belt, a human Thomas Kinkade painting, a human This is Us episode. If it’s a soulless and mass-produced version of “high brow,” it is a perfect description for Nantz in my mind.
Do I hate Jim Nantz? No, that would require Jim Nantz make me feel something.
I don’t fault Jim Nantz for his success. I am positive the guy works hard and is available for any task his producers ask him to handle. I am sure he listens to feedback and has thoughts of his own about what can be improved when he rewatches games and rounds he has called. There is no doubt in my mind that he puts in the work necessary to be assigned to call Super Bowls and Final Fours.
I fault the people that have created a cult of personality for a guy, who the most interesting thing about is that he carries a photo of burnt toast in his wallet like it is a beloved grandchild.
He’s got a few anecdotes here and there. His catchphrase, “Hello Friends,” has an origin story that I am sure makes you weep if you’re close to your dad. But really, he’s just some old rich guy that goes places old rich guys go (a private golf club in Augusta) and does things old rich guys do (buy a vineyard, marry a much younger lady, build a replica of Pebble Beach’s signature hole in his backyard). Is it a crime? No, but it isn’t exactly interesting.
I remember around 2010 there was a growing movement for CBS to replace Nantz on the Final Four with Gus Johnson. To me, it made all the sense in the world. Johnson is the life of the broadcast party. Truly, the only play-by-play guy that I can tell apart from any other. His is a style meant for basketball.
The reaction from many in my circle of Southern, white college sports lifers was that it would be sacrilege. “Why, Jim Nantz makes the Final Four special!” they would protest.
Does he though?
Let’s say you are a Virginia or Texas Tech fan and CBS has decided to replace Jim Nantz with the voice of one of those old Speak n’ Spells calling the game. Would that really have kept you from watching the 2019 NCAA Tournament Final? If the answer is yes, you don’t really love your team as much as you think you do.
It’s what makes me laugh when I read that Nantz wants an eight-figure annual salary or that Tony Romo has one. It’s what leaves me scratching my head any time ESPN panics and decides that it must have Al Michaels or Peyton Manning or someone else that commands a $10 million paycheck in the Monday Night Football booth. You could put two college professors in the booth and tell them to discuss The Canterbury Tales instead of the actual game. It’s Monday Night Football. Just don’t give us the Jaguars every week and we’ll probably watch.
Game announcers just don’t matter. It doesn’t mean they don’t have talent or they don’t have to work hard. They do, but this is another example of our industry thinking too much about executives’ and critics’ opinions and not enough about what fans actually prioritize. Even if the argument is “Well Demetri, we aren’t thinking about the fans of Virginia and Texas Tech. We want the casual sports fan to stick around and watch the game,” I would tell you that no amount of Jim Nantz saying “Hello Friends” or Bill Raftery shouting “Onions!” is going to do that.
Over the weekend, I listened to two episodes of the podcast Behind the Bastards that were about Rush Limbaugh’s life and career. Now, I loathe Rush Limbaugh, but the host of the podcast read a quote from him that was brilliant – so brilliant in fact that I don’t remember the quote itself, just the gist of it!
Limbaugh’s reason for doing the style of show that he did was that he wanted to be what listeners cared about. He thought that if what attracted people to his show was the news of the day or their political identity, he would be interchangeable with anyone else, and the day he became too expensive would be the day that his employer told him not to bump his ass on the way out the door. By making his opinion and personality the center of his show, Limbaugh ensured that he was all his listeners cared about. That guaranteed he would be a commodity, something no news anchor or commentator before him ever could be.
If what matters is the game or the round, why does Jim Nantz matter? He doesn’t make anything more fun. He doesn’t make any moment mean something different than anyone else could. The people that like him like him because for 32 years CBS has been telling its audience that Jim Nantz matters. That’s branding, not a fact.
Look, having play-by-play is important. Remember when NBC Sports had been reduced to just the Olympics and the Triple Crown? Yeeesh! Having good play-by-play guys and analysts is important. I know being in this business we’re supposed to look at legends like Nantz or Vin Scully or Marv Albert and say “no one can do it like them,” but I mean, come on.
Really? No one? Pat Sumerall retired and the NFL didn’t suffer. Keith Jackson retired and college football carried on just fine. We have to stop being so precious about the voices we are used to hearing and remember that while fans may like them, the sport itself is really what keeps them coming back.
Phrases like “media is changing” and “this generation doesn’t consume sports like their parents do” are thrown around a lot and often interpreted as if they are unique to the 2020’s. The fact is media has been constantly changing since media was invented and generations never consume anything the same way their parents do. Is Nantz a legend? Sure, and he has plenty of contemporaries that are as well, but does paying them or propping them up to an audience in that way do anything but tickle a certain segment of the population’s nostalgia bone? Or worse, does it just tickle our industry’s nostalgia bone?
Jim Nantz is fine at what he does. I am sure he is a nice guy. But the cult of personality CBS has created around him is the epitome of the sports media industry wearing blinders and high-fiving itself instead of asking what really matters to its audience.
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.