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Sarah Spain Is Being The Woman She Needed

“I think I need to approach my own career in life, with the same view that I am seeing women’s sports through which is to not cap my ambitions or limitations because of what I’ve seen before.”

Kate Constable

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Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

For anyone starting a new job, having to navigate a new position, management and workload can be somewhat challenging. In the case of Sarah Spain, an additional obstacle was being the only woman within her department.  

In 2010, Spain started a new job as an update anchor at ESPN 1000 in Chicago. At the time, not only was she the only female voice on-air, she was the only female at the station in any sort of production role.

Courtesy: ESPN Images

In an industry largely dominated by middle-age white men, Spain’s small presence on-air at the beginning of her career was a large step for women entering the industry.

Her next leap came in January 2015, when ESPN announced that it was launching a new weekend radio show, Spain & Prim, with Spain and Prim Siripipat as co-hosts. It was ESPN’s first national sports radio show hosted and produced by women.

In 2016, ESPN launched The Trifecta, featuring Spain and co-hosts Kate Fagan and Jane McManus, further cementing her as a prominent figure in sports talk.

A simple Google search would tell you all this information, but what it wouldn’t openly tell you is that the sports radio industry was and still is dominated by men. Sure, you may be able to rattle off a list of 10-20 women’s names that occupy on-air roles on top stations and shows, but in comparison to the hundreds of men in these same roles, that number is minuscule.

Sarah Spain might not have seen it this way at the time, but what she has been doing since her update-anchor days, is inserting herself in a space occupied by men, so that the next female that wants to work in sports radio will see that it’s possible.

“There was a real pivot point at some point recently where I thought, ‘I’m prioritizing going out and being the woman that I needed when I grew up, being the person that other women need to see to try to reach higher heights, over just being liked,’” said Spain. “A lot of people don’t like ambitious women, a lot of people don’t like people who are confident and go out and say, ‘I’m good. I can do this. I’m qualified. I’m great. Hire me. See me.’”

This is an attitude that everyone – male or female – should have, but is it enough to erase the way an entire industry has operated for decades? Probably not.

So, what’s the solution?

“Well, for instance the hiring practices on the business side need to be more diverse so that those people who are making decisions are looking for a more diverse set of candidates, and there needs to be more risks taken,” said Spain. “It’s also, in my opinion, a lot of times about not risking anything in case people don’t like it, but then also never allowing for girls because they don’t diversify in any way.”

In March 2021, Spain quite literally put her money where her mouth is when she announced that she had become part of the new ownership group for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Sarah Spain on Twitter: "Back in your day bobbleheads were for superstar  athletes on giveaway days ONLY.… "
Courtesy: Sarah Spain

Spain is a Chicago native and has been a fan of the Red Stars for years, but those weren’t the reasons she gave when asked why she decided to invest in the team.

“Changing the face of diversity across sports starts at the top, right?” said Spain. “If you have women making those decisions, then you might have women influencing hiring practices of coaches, assistant coaches, front office, etc,. Then you have them making decisions about what are the priorities and positions of the team in the league. Then it’s, how are we running this this league to make sure that we’re not falling into the same pitfalls that are affecting other sports leagues.

“So, it was really important to me when the opportunity came up to put my money where my mouth is and to say, ‘yeah, this is a massive growth opportunity.’”

Unlike sports radio, where women of influence are few and far between, the NWSL is a space where women are securing leadership roles with the goal of using diversity as a means to help the league grow.

Among other league and team investors are Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian, not to mention a long list of high-profile female businesswomen, celebrities, and athletes.

“They’re saying this is a completely untapped market, that if just given the investment to grow will explode, and it’s been just held back by literally people who don’t believe in it,” said Spain.

Sports talk may never diversify itself the same way Spain and company – no pun intended – plan to diversify the NWSL, but would it hurt to try? It’s worked pretty well for Spain.

“I think I need to approach my own career in life, with the same view that I am seeing women’s sports through which is to not cap my ambitions or limitations because of what I’ve seen before,” said Spain.

ESPN Signs Sarah Spain to New Multi-Year Deal - ESPN Press Room U.S.
Courtesy: ESPN Images

According to Sarah, if you asked her when she started her career at ESPN 1000 if one day she would have her own national radio show with her name on it, or have won an Emmy and a Peabody, or become part owner of a professional sports team, she would have said no.

“It’s a lesson to me to stop putting those limits on myself and instead keep pushing, and then allowing other people to see that and push it for themselves,” said Spain.

Because of people like Spain, the idea of going from weekend update anchor to team owner doesn’t seem so impossible.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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