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Dan Le Batard Is Still Going To Be Dan Le Batard

“I have written before that I was concerned that DraftKings’ money was going to turn the irreverent show that is only kind of about sports into an irreverent show that was shamelessly about gambling. At least for the time being, I would say Freedumb did a lot to ease that fear.”

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Freedumb, the 24-hour livestream of the Dan Le Batard Show, was Meadowlark Media planting its flags. It was the company’s coming out party. It was a reintroduction to the audience that maybe hasn’t heard or even thought about Dan, Stu, and the Shipping Container since the show left ESPN Radio.

Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) | Twitter
Courtesy: Meadowlark Media/YouTube

I am not going to lie to you. I didn’t watch all 24-hours. I consumed the event in multiple two or three hour sessions.

There was a lot of good. I really enjoyed watching everyone, not just the producers, run around in real-time looking for guests. I liked the familiar elements of the Dan Le Batard Show that I knew from ESPN Radio like “put it on the poll” and Stump the Meech. Using the show to raise more than $100,000 for ALS research was a very admirable thing. It threaded the needle between sincere (the effort was lead by Tom Haberstroh and Kate Fagan, each of whom have had parents affected by the disease) and the silly (the motivator for donating was watching Haberstroh and Fagan eating Carolina Reaper peppers).

Admittedly, there was stuff I didn’t like too. Look, this isn’t me calling these elements simply bad. I just thought these were missteps for an event trying to establish what the next evolution of the Dan Le Batard Show will be.

Rather than go through each minuscule complaint I have, I will focus on one key thing. Dan and his crew will have have to put ESPN in their rearview mirror in order to truly embrace the freedom they claim to enjoy.

It doesn’t mean you can’t talk to former colleagues anymore. It doesn’t mean you cannot revel in the fact that so much of what you can do now you couldn’t just one year ago, when Mickey Mouse was your boss. But now, the rebellion against ESPN hits different. When you are raging against the machine from inside of it, you are a rebel and a voice of decent. When you are bringing Dan Patrick, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill on to tell the same stories that I have already heard them tell multiple times, you sound bitter.

Also, it all feels very self-serving. I don’t think the audience cares about Dan Le Batard’s newfound creative freedom when it isn’t being used to do cool stuff. I’m not sure who multiple guests raging against Disney was for aside from people that have had professional dealings with Disney.

Now, I do think that if you made me rate the Freedumb stream on a scale of 1 to 10, it would come out way closer to 10 than 1. I would say taken in total, of the 8 to 9 hours I watched, I would give it an 8. My complaints about the content come way more from thinking like a professional trying to think like a listener. Mostly, I was just entertained, and that is good.

I have written before that I was concerned that DraftKings’ money was going to turn the irreverent show that is only kind of about sports into an irreverent show that was shamelessly about gambling. At least for the time being, I would say Freedumb did a lot to ease that fear.

As soon as I turned the stream on, I started taking notes and documenting the moments that stood out to me as really great. I could write multiple paragraphs about each one, but that would make this column way too long. So, instead I put on my editor’s cap and narrowed the list of moments worth writing about down to five.

That means great stuff isn’t going to get a deep dive from me. Real quick, I want to mention Rasheed Wallace’s hilariously wimpy RV horn, Dan calling out how miserable Dan Patrick is by saying that the celebrities that are drawn to him find a “dried up twig of a man,” an owl lunging for Mike Ryan’s head, the people that openly said Chris Cote wasn’t a celebrity, the ones that believed he was, the event opening with Stugotz mismanaging the Marching Band to Nowhere, Charles Barkley telling Dan he wanted to murder Papí, Papí saying the name Rui Hachimura, Stugotz trying to spell the name Rui Hachimura, and finally Mike Schur PERFECTLY mocking Stugotz’s Game Notes. They were all hilarious, and unfortunately did not crack the top 5.

With that in mind, here are the five best moments of the entire 24 hours.

5. PAT RILEY SINGS THE PRAISES OF OLD SPICE

This is a moment that isn’t going to show up on any of the highlights, because literally every second Pat Riley was on was worth watching. The interview opened with Dan Le Batard forcing Ryan Cortes, a Miami Heat superfan, to ask Riley a very unfomfortable question: “What do you smell like and where can we meet for a hug?”

Riley laughed and aside from mentioning what cologne he wore, I didn’t expect much more to the answer. Instead, Riley admitted that he still wears Old Spice and went on for a good two minutes about what Old Spice meant to him and how it reminds him of his father. It was funny and heartwarming and perfectly punctuated by Le Batard’s awe at the fact that Riley’s cologne of choice can be bought at a CVS.

4. “LOOK WHO’S ON THE F***ING PIRATE SHIP!”

If you are an icon of sports talk radio going on someone else’s uncensored, unencumbered show, you better announce yourself with authority. That is exactly what Jim Rome did. We heard his voice before we saw his face and the inflection made it clear that this was Le Batard’s show, but as far as sports talk radio goes, there is only one GOAT.

What I loved about this segment was the absolute reverence the Shipping Container showed Rome. Mike Ryan admitted that he was a huge fan. Jessica Smetana tweeted later that having him on was unbelievable. These are people that clearly love the Pimp in the Box.

I also loved how self-aware Jim Rome is. He clearly gets where the guys that grew up listening to him are now in their lives and he knows his place in the radio industry. That being said, he can also look back at the over-the-top bravado that is his trademark with a wink and a laugh, which was clear as he talked about his run-in with Jim Everett.

3. GREG COTE SHOWS OFF HIS SQUISHY BELLY BUTTON

There was not a weirder, more on-brand moment of the entire 24 hours than the overnight hours with Greg Cote. Throughout the earlier hours of the event, Cote had alluded to a number of health issues he had been dealing with. The Le Batard crew largely met each complaint with disbelief.

When he took his turn in the host’s chair though, Cote was going to take advantage. At around 4:25 AM, he asked his guest, Dr. John Roberts, if he wouldn’t mind taking a look at his strange belly button via Zoom. It was a memorable event as Cote showed off what was clearly a hernia of some sort and proceeded to poke it and squish the mass that covered his naval.

Credit Roberts for being a good sport and giving his professional opinion. Credit the Shipping Container as well for showing the proper horror at just how much the moment had gone off the rails.

2. BOB LEY SHOUTS “HOLY SHIT”

Prior to leaving ESPN last year, Bob Ley had been at the center its journalistic credibility. When the network leaned into the goofiness of The Big Show and the “This is SportsCenter” campaign, there was Ley leading the Emmy-nomination bait Outside the Lines. When the network embraced debate, there was Ley, hosting panels on the head trauma caused by playing football and the corruption that plagued FIFA and the World Cup. That Bob Ley, the one that was an institution in Bristol since day 1, would never have been caught on camera shouting expletives after eating a raw jalapeño.

Welcome to the internet, General!

Ley was keen to join in Kate Fagan’s fundraising efforts for I Am ALS, that is why he was amongst the many biting into hot peppers. The real treat though, aside from the swearing, was just how animated he was in expressing his pain. Ley was sweating and crying and laughing as he tried to tell stories of covering the World Cup, while clearly in tremendous pain.

1. CHRIS WITTYNGHAM IS A FANCY LAD

Chris Wittyngham calls soccer play-by-play. He is part of the Miami Dolphins’ radio broadcast, and most recently, has joined Meadowlark Media as a producer and commentator on the Dan Le Batard Show. His idiosyncrasies have been put under a microscope since coming on board, and rightfully so. Chris is someone that gels his hair BEFORE HE GOES TO BED!

It all inspired a jingle that is played regularly on the show, and on Friday, that jingle was turned into a full-length music video.

The second I started putting the list together, it was all about what was #2. This fan-produced masterpiece is everything you love about the Dan Le Batard Show and a perfect picture of why DraftKings thought it and Meadowlark Media were worth a $50 million investment.

It has everything that made this crew great: ball busting, silliness, and character development. On top of that, it was a beautiful picture of this fanbase’s dedication to the show and its willingness to embrace inside jokes.

Seriously, if you can hear this and not go around singing “So let us mount our penny farthings, ride till dawn with our comrades,” I am not sure you have a sense of humor at all or get what made The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz great to begin with!

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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