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It’s Time For Monday Night Football To Embrace The Dennis Miller Era Again

“Even if Barkley was steadfast about not wanting to be a part of the Monday Night Football booth, thinking outside the box and working beyond the confines of unimpeachable expertise is the only way ESPN was ever going to make the broadcast something more than it currently is.”

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Charles Barkley has a way of making news. Is it calculated? Maybe not, but it sure seems like it. I mean, the guy always seems to make sure there is a camera or microphone around whenever he expresses a political opinion, and those opinions are all over the map. Honestly, both sides of the political aisle love half of what Charles Barkley says and would hail him as one of their own if they didn’t absolutely despise the other half of what he says.

So, should we be skeptical when he says that he was offered a role on Monday Night Football? Absolutely not. ESPN has made it clear that they are looking for someone in the booth that would make Monday Night Football appointment television even when they force-feed us a Texans/Jaguars garbage fire.

What is weird is the way the public first heard about this. We didn’t learn the news through some inside scoop reported by Bryan Curtis or Andrew Marchand. It was a throw away line from an interview Barkley did on the Jim Brockmire Podcast.

Barkley frames this as a dumb idea. How could he be what Monday Night Football is looking for? He never played. He doesn’t spend every Sunday consuming the all-22 from multiple games and the majority of Monday breaking down film.

ESPN already has that presence on Monday Night Football and the network still isn’t satisfied. Say whatever you want about his ability as a broadcaster, Jason Whitten knows football inside and out. Booger McFarland does too. Same with Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. ESPN didn’t call Charles Barkley because it wanted more of the same thing.

You can go back and look through my archives. I am on the record over and over again saying that I don’t think the voices in the booth on Monday Night Football matter to fans nearly as much as ESPN thinks they do. If you like the NFL, you are going to watch at least some of the game each week. The names we heard kicked around, Al Michels, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo, are interesting to sports fans, but no one else. They aren’t changing your mind about Monday Night Football if the NFL doesn’t mean anything to you.

ESPN should be commended here and should have worked harder to make this happen. Even if Barkley was steadfast about not wanting to be a part of the Monday Night Football booth, thinking outside the box and working beyond the confines of unimpeachable expertise is the only way ESPN was ever going to make the broadcast something more than it currently is.

Remember the Dennis Miller experiment? Plenty of people in our industry will say it was a failure, but Monday Night Football hasn’t had the same kind of pop culture recognition that it received in 2000 in a long time! Also, let’s be fair to Miller. We don’t really know if the experiment was a failure, because from day 1 Dan Fouts decided he hated this idea and wasn’t going to try and make it work.

Q&A: Catching up with Dennis Miller | WTOP

Why would it be absurd to run it back and try bringing a fan into the booth? Sure, Tony Kornheiser was a sports journalist with a major weekday presence on ESPN, but wasn’t that just a single step above where Miller was coming in? It can work with the right mix of personalities, so long as everyone buys into the vision.

To make a “fan in the booth” scenario work, you must first commit to a three-man booth. You need the right fan – someone that immediately recognizes that literally everyone on the broadcast knows more about football than they do. It is why Barkley makes a lot of sense for a first call. He has plenty of TV experience. He isn’t going to operate from a place of having to get his jokes in. Most importantly, he loves the sport.

Next, your ex-player has to buy in. He will have a very specific role here, because so much of the conversation will rely on his expertise and analysis. He also has to understand that this isn’t a typical three-man booth. The fan is there to do something completely different than we are used to seeing in these situations.

Finally, you need a play-by-play man that is perfectly in sync with the producer and director in the truck. This kind of broadcast booth doesn’t have to be controlled chaos, but it will require ego management and a level of leadership that may be a bit uncommon. Both of the other voices are coming into the broadcast with their own individual goals, but it is up to the play-by-play man to provide the lanes necessary to help the individual goals merge to work as part of the overall common goal of putting on a great show.

When that is your task but you are also expected to provide the call of what is happening on the field, you are going to need to rely on other eyes and ears sometimes. To make a booth like the one I am describing work, a play-by-play guy has to trust the voice in his ear when it tells him what his teammates need in each moment.

The truth is that ESPN will probably never be done tinkering with Monday Night Football. If that’s the case, the network has to think about all the ways it can get the broadcast to where it is trying to go. Would one of the game’s biggest names draw more attention to the network? Sure, maybe for a couple of weeks. If the company is really trying to make a splash though, I would encourage everyone in Bristol not to give up on the idea of an outsider in the booth just because Charles Barkley said no. In fact, I’m just going to throw a name out there.

Snoop.

Snoop Dogg hailed for his boxing commentary | People | dailyprogress.com

Look, it’s just a jumping off point. I’m not saying it’s perfect.

Now, it is possible that the pool ESPN would be allowed to win in here is so small that it just isn’t worth the time and effort to build a booth involving someone who’s only connection to the NFL is that they love watching it. After all, the league has so much more influence over its broadcast partners now than it did when Disney put Miller next to Fouts and Al Michaels. It’s not inconceivable that ESPN could come to the NFL with a home run name and the league could flat out shut it down for any number of dumb, short-sighted reasons.

There is a lesson worth learning, not just for TV play-by-play, but for all of us in the broadcast business. If you want to be special and stand out from your competition, you have to do something special and different. The pop-culture definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe the next time ESPN decides it needs to shake up the Monday Night Football booth, it would make more sense to start somewhere different than an eight-figure offer to Peyton Manning that is destined to be rejected just like everyone before it.

BSM Writers

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.

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USA Today

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.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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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.

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