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Is Rachel Nichols The Beginning Of A Bloodbath At ESPN?

“There are options in house, but none of them give ESPN what Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal give TNT: iconic, generational talents both on the court and on TV.”

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Disney paid $1.4 billion for a nine-year extension to NBA television rights in 2016. Since then, the company has been trying to find ways to justify the price tag and shoe-horning the league everywhere it could.

There was a multi-million dollar interactive entertainment complex at Walt Disney World. Two weeks ago, the company announced it would closed after just seven months in operation.

Then there was the big swing that made a little more sense. ESPN wanted to program its NBA coverage the same way it did its NFL coverage. There would be a show on year-round regardless of whether or not the league was in season. There would be a huge team of former players and coaches and broadcasters to rotate through the studio, keeping perspectives fresh and coverage exciting.

That didn’t get the same quick hook, but with the recent announcement that Dave Roberts would be overseeing NBA production and last week’s decision to part ways with Rachel Nichols and call it a day on The Jump, it is clear that the ESPN is ready to acknowledge things aren’t going as planned.

Rachel Nichols has every right to be pissed about the way her time at ESPN ended. She was recorded in a private moment bitching about work. We all do that and we all say things in those moments we wouldn’t want to be made public. It is understandable to think she was done wrong.

Let me rephrase. She WAS done wrong. I am just not sure how much that recording and what she had to say about Maria Taylor is actually the reason she is out at ESPN. I think it is just convenient cover.

I used to say this all the time about pro teams hiring a new GM or collegiate athletics programs hiring a new AD: you don’t sign up to be the captain of the Death Star if they aren’t going to let you fire the big laser.

When you are put in a position to oversee every aspect of a product or a program, you want to make sure you have handpicked the people whose work will determine your success. Dave Roberts may not be a GM or an AD, but he is no different. If ESPN’s NBA coverage is Alderaan, then he is Grand Moff Tarkin giving the order to blow it to smithereens.

I have no inside knowledge. I am just using some common sense here. The exit of Maria Taylor was a sign of things to come. Rachel Nichols’s dismissal is the shot across the bow of a product that needs some kind of kick in the ass. There is a new sheriff in town, and if it takes a bloodbath to get the NBA right, then there is gonna be a bloodbath at ESPN.

Taylor is gone. Paul Pierce was let go midseason. That means the 2021-22 NBA season will again start with a shakeup for NBA Countdown. ESPN’s studio show has always played second-fiddle to what TNT has to offer on Thursday nights. It isn’t reasonable to think that a new host joining the existing cast will be the only change.

If I am Jalen Rose and/or Jay Williams, I am on the phone with my agent right now trying to get some answers. I am at least trying to get a meeting so I can try to determine for myself which way the wind is blowing.

ESPN has some really talented people in terms of NBA analysts. Rose and Williams are two of them. Kendrick Perkins, I think it is safe to say, has put the “rising star” moniker in his rearview. The guy is a star right now. Tim Legler is a commanding presence whenever he is on SportsCenter. Vince Carter proved very quickly to be a strong broadcaster. There are options in house, but none of them give ESPN what Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal give TNT: iconic, generational talents both on the court and on TV.

What are you going to do in the host’s chair? Malika Andrews is reportedly in-line for the role. Does that excite anyone? Stephen A. Smith, who Roberts is reportedly close with, has an idea for a new studio show that includes himself, Michael Wilbon, and Magic Johnson. Can you imagine how hard that would be to watch? Stephen A. Smith shouting strong opinions at two people with nothing to say back?

There are two things I want to make clear. First, I’ll reiterate that this is just speculation. I don’t have inside knowledge. I am a basketball fan with a little bit of insight to the people and decisions involved here. Next, I am a big fan of professional basketball. This is not some kind of fantasy built on any sort of anti-NBA agaenda.

When Disney signed that contract extension with the league in 2016, it tried to fit a square peg (NFL-style coverage) into a round hole (NBA consumption). Those of us that like the NBA do like to talk about it year round, but that discussion largely lives on Twitter and other social platforms. The NBA fanbase is younger, more diverse, and most importantly, smaller than the NFL fan base. It was never going to support a daily NBA debate show on traditional television like The Jump in a way that made ESPN suits look at it as a success. So it is time to re-think what we are doing here.

ESPN and ABC still have the NBA Finals. They will go back to presenting double-headers on Sundays in the upcoming season. There is a lot to work with in terms of play-by-play.

Maybe the pieces to make the studio programming work are already in house and they just need to be reconfigured. The reality, though, is they probably are not. That’s why Dave Roberts is in charge of the NBA now.

(Photo by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images)

Changing players is the first step. It is one ESPN has taken more than once before though, and the network is still playing catch-up. If your initial solution doesn’t fix the problem, what comes next?

It might be time to boot up that big laser.

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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