Kenny Mayne only has a handful of shows left at ESPN. By now you probably know his time at The Worldwide Leader is coming to an end after 27 years. Richard Deitsch of The Athletic wrote on Wednesday that ESPN asked Mayne to take a 61 percent pay cut, which he declined.
But Mayne doesn’t seem to be concerned at all about what’s next. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
“I’ll probably sign up for that deal where you extend your insurance benefits,” he joked. “That’s my No. 1 priority.”
The truth is Mayne is already taking calls on what could be on the horizon. Those ideas and requests have come quickly, which he says has been a pleasant surprise.
“I’ll do something but it will be a little more unconventional even than what I was doing,” Mayne said. “I won’t necessarily be going to a building to do a certain show, I won’t be tied to one thing that way, but I don’t know what it is yet. But I’m flattered to know that other people think i’m alright.”
It’s kind of amazing to get a glimpse into Mayne’s entire outlook on the situation. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of resentment toward the place he’s been employed for close to three decades. There also seems to be no concern about what his life after ESPN looks like. And his legacy? Yeah, he literally hasn’t even thought about that once.
“I hope they spell my name right,” said Mayne. “I haven’t thought about that, honestly. I get why you’re asking, but I don’t know, I just hope I’m well liked.”
The reality is Mayne will be remembered for far more than just being well-liked. Take me, a 31-year-old lifelong sports fan. It’s crazy to say, but I represent a large group of people where Mayne played a part in my childhood. During ESPN’s heyday in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, anyone who cared about sports was watching SportsCenter on a daily basis. It was an essential routine in our lives and from the catchphrases, Mayne Street, Wider World of Sports, the hilarious commercials with mascots and athletes and everything else in between, Mayne was there at every step.
“It’s silly,” said Mayne. “We got to do the stupid thing of watching games and making up the most absurd thing to say, or the correct thing to say, we took our job seriously on the serious matters.”
The funny thing is Mayne never originally sought out to be in sports. He was more interested in doing long-form documentaries for PBS, while going to school and playing football at UNLV. But after getting a TV job in Seattle as a backup production assistant, he found himself doing local news. He was still trying to find a way to get into documentaries, when the news director informed him his new role was doing sports.
“He told me I was doing sports because I played football,” said Mayne. “No other reason. That’s literally how it happened.”
If not for that, who knows if Mayne ever gets into sports?
“I’d be doing Frontline or something by now,” he said. “Maybe I will now.”
The year was 1987 and Mayne was covering all the local sports teams in Seattle. He was having a blast. It turned out the way he was prepping for his sportscasts and calling highlights, was the same way they were doing it at ESPN.
“I didn’t write out the words,” Mayne said. “I just wrote notes. That’s how they do it at ESPN.”
To make enough money to eat, Kenny Mayne was also selling prepaid legal insurance, and MCI long distance plans amongst other things. His new goal was ESPN. Finally in 1994 it happened.
After three years of proving himself, he was given the task of replacing Keith Olbermann on the SportsCenter set next to Dan Patrick. Talk about pressure.
“I was pretty new, right?” said Mayne. “I had only been there since 1994 and hadn’t done SportsCenter very much. There was pressure to not screw it up but Dan was good to me and made it comfortable and the producers were great.”
Mayne was hosting SportsCenter during a time when people literally sprinted to their televisions to see the results of games. It was a different era, but arguably the most successful for not only the show, but the entire network.
Being able to anchor that show was a special time in his ESPN tenure, but it’s not his most proud memory. That’s understandable when you find out just how many he has.
“I’d say my highest achievement in all of 27 years was during a Stevie Wonder concert,” Mayne said. “I got to go backstage and his band members knew who I was.”
Name an event or athlete. Mayne has been to it and has probably had multiple conversations with that particular player.
“I loved doing Mayne Street and all the actors from that went on to Parks and Rec,” Mayne said. “They’re all famous. They left me behind. Wider World of Sports was really fun. We did amazing trips around the world and made incredible stories and all the crew and friends that I got to do that stuff with. Getting to be at Dale Earnhardts Daytona 500 the time he won. Getting to be there and work with him the next year was pretty amazing. Going back to Stevie Wonder I got him in Philadelphia to say ‘I can’t be at the (baseball) All Star Game, I have a high ankle sprain.’ That was a pretty good line to pull off.”
So maybe that’s why Mayne isn’t as bitter as others would be about this decision. He’s seen the best things sports has to offer. What else could you want? What meant a lot to him has been the outpouring of support on social media. He’s not sitting on his phone and continually checking his messages, but he knows what’s being said.
“I was disappointed more people didn’t care about me. We’re stuck in the hundreds of thousands, not in the millions,” he jokes. “Honest answer? I was flattered, I continue to be flattered and I’m blown away by it all. The sincerity of the comments is very touching. It’s been an insane 48 hours.”
Something is next. We don’t know what. Mayne doesn’t know what. But something is coming soon. Whatever that opportunity might be, Mayne will handle it like he has everything else: with a sense of humor.
“At ESPN I got hired like a horse coming 12-wide into the stretch and somehow got into the wire at like 50-1 odds. I was a longshot to get hired and I had to fight my way in.”
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.