Red Sox/Yankees, Bears/Packers, Alabama/Auburn, or choose one of your own, rivalries make sports great. There’s nothing like a fan base getting riled up, ready to watch their team “own” their rival. These games are a television network’s dream, tons of promotion, storylines, and best of all, viewers. While it may be easy on a network executive when one of these games is on the air, it isn’t always easy on the network broadcast team.
Unlike a local telecast or radio broadcast, national television has it a little tougher. Locally, you have pretty much a die-hard audience built in. They know the broadcasters and they know the history of the teams. A fan will come to the telecast or radio waiting to hear what they’ve come to expect, a game call that’s geared toward them. There won’t be a lot of, “yeah, I already know that. What else you got?” moments.
I think the die-hard base already knows what it may get if they are forced to tune into a network telecast of a game against their big rival. They know there will be some stuff that makes them roll their eyes. But what are you supposed to do as a network broadcaster? It’s not a local audience, it’s the entire country that’s tuned into your broadcast. You have a responsibility to not only tell both sides of the story, but to make it relatable to those that aren’t true fans of either team.
To me, the national telecast needs a steady dose of “duh”, because you can’t assume everyone is a fan. It’s not just another game and to me, it’s ok to revisit some of the stories they’ve probably already heard. It’s supplemental but useful in setting the scene. But it will also need some new and fresh stories regarding the rivalry. This is where you rely on talented producers. They are usually able to uncover some new aspect of the rivalry. Whether it be a story about a new player, a new head coach or a new role for someone already involved in the rivalry. Are there players on opposing teams that went to high school together and so on. Teamwork on the production side will make this telecast ‘watchable’ for all.
Look, there are things about this rivalry that are unmistakable. There have been obviously been some great and memorable games. Yes, there have been some blowouts and there have been some upsets. You have to recap them to the viewing audience. For the big fans, it will be a cool reminder (or a sad one depending on the result) and for those just tuning in to watch a game, it will give them a little pretext on what to expect. In other words, it will introduce those that don’t have a particular rooting interest to what this matchup is all about. The hype machine likely has been working overtime in promoting the game, making everyone realize just how big the game is for the teams and the fan bases.
Preparing for one of these games in a network capacity can be a bit challenging. You’re serving basically three audiences. Team A’s fans, Team B’s fans, and those that are just tuned in because they like the sport. How do you serve all three masters?
You really can’t, so you do the best you can. This shouldn’t be looked at as a burden, you may just need to take your normal prep up a notch. I mean, do what you would always do, like talking to the coaches and players to give you that leg up. Knowing ahead of time that you’ll be doing a game with two heated rivals, will give you the chance to talk with former players and former coaches for that extra bit of flavor. Plus, there is plenty of information out there these days for you to use during the broadcast.
If it’s your first time or thousandth time broadcasting a big game, there is that tendency to try and do too much. The game itself is already big, so there’s no need to make it any bigger in your mind. It’s a chore because there’s already extra hype that preceded the game. There’s a buzz in the crowd. If the game has extra meaning, like moving on in the playoffs, or securing a conference title, that adds even more to the equation. Being up for the moment is one thing, but getting too geared up for a broadcast is just as bad as a player being too keyed up for the game. You get outside of yourself and usually you get sped up.
I can recall two instances pretty clearly from my career, where the game was big and I needed to calm myself down. Now, these weren’t rivalry games, but they were big none the less. When I was doing play-by-play for the Padres, the team faced Colorado in a game 163 (where Matt Holliday still hasn’t touched home plate), for the right to go to the playoffs. It was more than just a game. It had a playoff feel. I remember walking up and down the stairs from the broadcast level to the main press box, just to waste some energy.
The other happened while in San Diego as well, preparing for the University of San Diego basketball team playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Toreros were set to face UCONN and I couldn’t wait for the game to start. When we got to the arena in Tampa, I couldn’t sit down. I was too pumped up. Knowing this, all I could think to do was walk around the arena. I walked up into the stands and watched the game that was on the floor before ours. Mentally, I called that game and it seemed to get me back into a good head space.
Being able to relax ahead of any game is important, but for a big game like we’re talking about it’s critical. Get that prep done early. It’s very likely that you’ll know a lot about the teams anyway, so getting the framework done ahead of time will allow you more time to just chill. If you have to, write yourself a note or two on your spotting board. I used to write, “SLOW DOWN” and “BREATHE”, ok, the second one I probably shouldn’t have had to remind myself to do, but you get the idea.
Remember, at the end of the day, this big rivalry or big game is the star. Don’t try to upstage it. You don’t have to.
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.