The potential franchise-altering move of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays to split time between Tampa, Florida in the United States and Montréal, Québec, in Canada was a great headline in the papers. The prospect of the move happening is actually more real than one might think. The Tampa franchise is a curious one: often very successful in the standings despite living in the bottom five of franchise value and player salary.
Tampa Bay has actually implemented the Moneyball strategy better than the Oakland Athletics, who are also considering a move to Las Vegas to join the Raiders (NFL) and the Golden Knights (NHL). Much praise should be given to the players, city, and front office for being efficient with resources, but with large amounts of success. However, the multi-city opportunity is not something the sports world has seen in recent history.
The NFL has been looking to expand its international reach for years. The games in Mexico City and London may indeed lead to franchises or at least duel city opportunities. The NFL’s goal is to increase the fan base and popularity of the sport.
If played right, this opportunity for the Rays is tremendous. For one, the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa have been trying to find a new home for the franchise. Tropicana Field is a fun venue, but an updated one would be more welcoming to fans and encourage growth. The cities and the Rays have been looking to make a deal for quite some time, but like most city/private partnerships, money is the issue.
Beyond having a second stadium to call home, the Rays have the potential to double their fan base. The team can also reintroduce baseball to Montréal, which has not had a team since 2005, when the Expos left for Washington, D.C. That can increase the Rays’ merchandise sales.
The Rays can further think about a name change for the French-speaking province. “Rayons du Diable”, “raie manta”, or “soleil” are all options. Scheduling presents some opportunities, especially where the Rays average less than 10,000 fans per game.
With the increase in attendance and potential for doubling the franchise value, Rays ownership can think about selling, building a new venue or two, and establishing new minor league teams. The Rays may also increase in popularity, which will lead to additional dollars on the table for broadcast and streaming partnerships. The team could find itself as the only dual-country, dual-city team in all of American professional sports and even possibly all global sports.
Some downside to the dual-city opportunity is that the Rays may alienate fans by being divided between two geographic areas. However, in a world that is increasingly moving towards digitalization, maybe physical geography is becoming less important. Maybe doubling down on multiple geographies is the Rays’ most promising path to success. One thing is certain, additional funding from the opportunity for player salaries may help the Rays become a more balanced team in terms of prospect development and free agent acquisitions.
It is also true that massive success in Montréal may lead to the Rays leaving outright for our friend to the north. However, much credit should be given to the Rays for seeking an alternate site without leaving the host city. Maybe the approach is something other franchises will follow going forward.
It is an interesting opportunity and with foreign leagues seeing calls for additional oversight by government authorities. Maybe having a dual approach will limit oversight, but maybe it will increase it. However, American sports have been strongly independent of government oversight since their founding. Very rarely has the government inserted itself into the process.
The “Montréal-Tampa Bay Rays” sounds more like a law firm name or business acquisition, but with some marketing and branding assistance could be the next best thing.
Jeremy Evans writes about Sports Business for Barrett Sports Media. He is also the CEO, Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele in contractual, intellectual property, and dealmaking matters. He is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles. You can learn more about his background online at https://www.csllegal.com. To connect, reach him on Twitter @JeremyMEvansESQ, or by email at Jeremy@CSLlegal.com.
Willie Colon Fits Into Media Roles He Never Expected
“Evan and Babs already had a fanbase. They were already established in the radio world. People know them. A lot of celebrities and entertainers are well aware of who they are.”
The careers of professional athletes are finite in that there is only so much the human body can withstand until time eventually expires. Some athletes are given the fortune of being able to choose when to retire, but for others, injuries and other internal and external factors often play a hand in the decision. For former offensive guard Willie Colon, his career ended after his age-32 season due to a sprained MCL that landed him on injured reserve, limiting him to just six games.
Before suffering the knee injury as a member of the New York Jets, Colon was playing for the team that drafted him – the Pittsburgh Steelers – where he put together productive seasons but battled through other ailments. Those included a torn Achilles prior to the start of the 2010 season and a torn triceps muscle in his first game returning to action in 2011, meaning he only played one game in two years.
Colon, who was born in the Bronx, N.Y., experienced various highs and lows throughout his decade-long stint in the National Football League. Broadcasting was not initially in the playbook for Colon, as he had never collected experience in the field nor did he think he would be forced to officially hang up his spikes in 2017.
As an interdisciplinary studies major at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Colon split his time between attending classes and playing on a scholarship on the school’s now-defunct football team. During his final injury as a professional athlete, Colon contributed to local sports coverage on SportsNet New York, a regional sports network in the New York metropolitan area. While he was not earnest about working in sports media, his wife persuaded him to take broadcasting more seriously once retirement became a legitimate possibility.
“I was still very bitter about how I left the field. If it was up to me, I’d still be playing but my knees had other plans if you will so I was forced to walk away from the game,” Colon said. “Nevertheless, I was meeting a lot of important and successful people in media who… kind of put that battery in my back and it was like ‘Hey man, if you just start working at it, start doing things, be willing to do spots, be willing to dive into the business, you can make a career out of this.’”
Colon got his start in the business in San Francisco, when he and Julie Stewart-Binks auditioned to appear on Fox Sports’ network programming alongside Jason Whitlock. Neither Colon nor Stewart-Binks received the role and both returned to New York City to progress in their careers and pursue other opportunities. During his early days in sports media, Colon appeared on 98.7 ESPN New York, a traditional sports talk radio station, to discuss football and other sports throughout the day, and also did live hits for other west coast stations.
After some time had passed, Stewart-Binks called Colon to tell him about her new job with Barstool Sports, a digital media company with content spanning both the worlds of sports and entertainment, and persuaded him to audition to join. While he had no prior knowledge about the company, he felt joining a digital media platform would give him the ability to be more authentic with his audience.
“I had never heard of it,” Colon said. “For me, it just sounded like an opportunity for me to kind of be more ‘me,’ because when you’re doing ESPN, you’re doing more traditional radio [and are] kind of boxed in. Yeah, you can have a personality, but there’s only so far you can go with your commentary or what you want to say or how you want to go about things.”
Following an audition that took place with Stewart-Binks and Francis Ellis, Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy extended an offer to Colon to join the brand. By mid-January 2018, Colon was officially added on a brand new morning show called Barstool Breakfast, airing across Barstool Media’s broadcast platforms and SiriusXM Channel 85.
Colon took a leap of faith joining Barstool Sports and was a fixture on the morning show during the three years it was on the air, along with show producer Kevin Rafferty (“Wayne Jetski”) and newer co-hosts Patrick McAuliffe (“Pat”), Michael McCarthy (“Large”) and Peterson Zaha (“Zah”). In fact, signing on with the brand was something that people around him were not completely sold on, questioning its premise and the overall prudence of the decision.
“I just jumped at the chance,” Colon said. “It came with a warning label. A lot of people who knew Barstool and how Barstool went about its business were telling me to approach with caution…. We had a really, really good nucleus of fun, in-your-face [and] opinionated [talk] – and it was just great all-around and I loved it.”
While he was a member of Barstool Sports, Colon and McCarthy shared a close relationship based on the similarities in their backgrounds. They are both natives of New York City born in the Bronx who went to Catholic high schools and consider family among their core values. The chemistry Colon was able to kindle with McCarthy on the air enhanced the sound of the show and made it more relatable and casual for listeners, especially those aligned with the company’s target demographics.
“One of the greatest compliments I got working with ‘Large’ on Barstool Breakfast was ‘Every time we listen to you guys, we feel like we’re tapping into a conversation between two best friends,’” Colon said, “and it felt like that, honestly. We had our ups and downs, and we went through things together, but I honestly believe we had each other’s backs.”
Joining Barstool was indicative of a liberating feeling for Colon in terms of topic selection, as he escaped to a form of aural content creation and dissemination free of Federal Communications Commission regulation. During the time he was on traditional radio, Colon was cognizant of the effects his words could have on the station and made sure to carefully express his opinions on certain topics.
“You can have a personality, you just can’t piss off the sponsors,” Colon expressed. “There’s people who are paying the bills. Disney… owns ESPN, so you have to walk a fine line. They want you to cut onions, but they also don’t want you to go to the point where you’ll jeopardize any sponsorships or say anything that’s really going to stir up some stuff.”
While with Barstool Sports, Colon participated in a variety of podcasts, some of which were focused on football and sports while others were more centered around commentary centered around larger cultural issues. He left the company in 2021 and eventually signed on with SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio to join a bonafide duo in Evan Cohen and Mike Babchik on Morning Men. Since his start on the show in September 2021, Colon has sought to seamlessly slot in as a co-host without disrupting the previous chemistry between veterans Cohen and Babchik.
“Evan and Babs already had a fanbase. They were already established in the radio world. People know them. A lot of celebrities and entertainers are well aware of who they are,” Colon said. “Me getting the nod to be a part of their show, I was only apprehensive because it wasn’t a matter of ‘How do I fit in?’, it was a matter of ‘Do I fit in to where I don’t want to hold these guys back?’ because they had so many things going on for themselves.”
Cohen is a traditionalist who is more erudite in nature with profound sports knowledge and the ability to rapidly perform calculated analyses to formulate a cohesive opinion. Conversely, Babchik is, according to Colon, a “sex, drums, rock ‘n’ roll” type of personality with a great sense of humor and high level of showmanship he brings to the air each show. Finding the medium to which Colon could slot in and avoid disrupting the engrossing divergence imbued within the show was essential for his assimilation and the program’s sustained success.
“If anything, my mindset was like, ‘Alright, I’m the jock/dude. I’m a man’s man, I’m a guy’s guy,’” Colon said. “That’s pretty much my angle. I’m obviously a former Super Bowl champion [who] played for two great organizations, but I’m a man’s man… and I’m a family man. I have two children now and I’m married. I’m the all-American male, if you will, on top of being a guy who had a hell of a career in the NFL.”
A common criticism of some former athletes beginning careers in sports media is in their inability to relate to the average fan, sometimes disclosing esoteric knowledge not understandable to consumers. Having played professional sports and expressing one’s opinions on such topics usually heightens the credibility of a program or media outlet though, and it is an asset Colon brought to Morning Men that was previously absent from the show.
The challenge for a preponderance of newer sports media personalities is in being able to relate to an audience composed of a broad range of listeners with varying levels of investment in the program. For Colon though, playing professional sports has given him the confidence and determination to adapt under pressure in the number one media market in the country.
“I think what sports has done for me is [being able] to be fearless in the moment,” he said. “When you’re on-air and when you’re in front of the camera, there’s a big sense of vulnerability because once you open your mouth, you’re telling people who you are. I try to be conscious of that and not try to be somewhat bullish in my approach.”
One particular criticism that has come from some sectors of listeners of the show is Colon’s sporadic use of foul language. Although it bothers certain listeners, he believes that talking in this manner sometimes is the most optimal means to get his point across, something he would not be able to do if he were broadcasting on federally-regulated airwaves.
“I’ve always been told [that] people who are honest curse,” Colon explained. “They tell you exactly what it is and they tell you exactly how they feel. However, you have to be mindful that there are people who are listening to you who may have loved ones in the car and they don’t want their four-year-old to develop a curse word. If they don’t want to digest that, then they’re turning you off – so now, they’re not listening to you.”
As a former professional athlete, Colon has friends still playing in the NFL and those who are retired, along with relationships with other coaches and team personnel. In his role now though, it occasionally becomes necessary to criticize someone with whom he has a connection, and it was an aspect of the industry that initially dismayed him from pursuing a post-playing career in the industry.
Jerome Bettis, a former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back currently hosting an eponymously-named television show on WPXI in Pittsburgh was asked for advice by Colon on discussing situations with some players and personnel. It changed Colon’s outlook and espoused to him a new way of thinking about this type of commentary.
“One of the things [he said] that I thought was very true and trite was… ‘You never talk about the player. You talk about the situation and you talk about how you would respond in that situation or how they should have handled the situation,’” Colon said of Bettis’ advice to him. “Any time you directly talk about a player – especially when somebody’s close to you who you know is going to get back to it and they may have some hard feelings about it – you don’t want to necessarily dig at them about their character or anything about them.”
Some media programs today, whether they be in television or radio, remain focused on discussing players individually and it has led certain athletes still actively playing to strive for their own voices to be heard. In response, they have launched podcasts and other multimedia content that allows them to rewrite the narratives being propagated about them, whether they are true or false. This “new media” movement, especially popularized among athletes within the National Basketball Association, gives fans primary sources regarding certain information and demonstrates the revolution technology and frequent intersociality has instantiated among consumers.
“Now [there are] a lot of programs [that] kind of want you to say, ‘Hey Player A, this is how I directly feel about them.’ You have to be careful or you can just be bold,” Colon articulated. “….It’s all about what you’re comfortable with at the end of the day. I try to do both – I have no problems talking about a player individually. However, I understand that sometimes it’s more about the situation and context that has to be explained rather than who he is as a person.”
Colon had a positive relationship with the media throughout his NFL career, understanding their job and his own role in supplying them answers. Now being on the other side of the microphone, he knows of the difficulties professional athletes face when being faced with questions, some of which they are hesitant to answer. Yet just because the media may be undertaking a task with which one may not be comfortable, it does not mean they should behave towards them in an adverse way.
“I tried to tell a lot of young ball players that you shouldn’t treat the media like the enemy,” Colon said. “If anything, when you treat anyone like the enemy, you give them the power. I feel especially in the New York market even with my own team in the New York Jets, we put so much attention [on] what the media is going to say and how they’re going to react to certain things that happened within or around the building or even on the field.”
Nonetheless, there are occasions where interactions with the media can have the opposite effect they are intended to by the players, making the unintentional creation of embellished and superficial headlines all the more feasible. Colon was aware of the consequences his words could have on him and his team during his playing days and avoided falling into those traps. Instead, he opted to focus more on his play on the field, as he thought if it was exceeding expectations, there would be little if any negative commentary towards him overall.
“Too many times young athletes, because they’re asked a question or if they’re confronted with a trap question that could become a nugget or something viral for them to say… feel like they need to say something,” Colon said. “The player always has the power because the person trying to get the report is literally asking for you to say something, and you can say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
Colon’s sports media career quickly took him beyond the radio studio when he joined SportsNet New York in 2017, the regional sports network he contributed to towards the end of his playing career and official television home of the New York Jets. He is a frequent analyst appearing across studio programming such as Jets Game Plan and Jets Post Game Live, providing his insight on upcoming matchups and completed games. Radio and television, while they are both traditional platforms of content creation and subsequent dissemination, possess stark differences in terms of the workflow of hosts, analysts and on-air talent in general.
“[In] TV… you talk in sound bites. You just have to deliver the meat and potatoes of whatever you’re trying to say – and it has to be quick because there’s obviously commercial breaks and segments that cut up everything,” Colon said. “You have to know what you’re trying to say and get it out as real and clearly as possible.”
Radio is more difficult than working in television, Colon affirms, because on-air hosts rely on their voices as the primary form of entertainment they transmit to the audience. As a result, it is essential one has a certain aural presence about them in order to captivate listeners and keep them coming back for more.
“You can be as animated as you want to, but if you can’t necessarily get that out via words coming out of your mouth, then it makes for bad radio,” Colon said. “There’s a lot of tricks to the trade that you have to learn and there’s a lot of things that come with radio other than just picking up a mic and just talking about what you’re willing to talk about.”
Outside of sports media, Colon is involved in numerous other projects that are keeping him busy since he exited the playing field for the final time. For example, Colon is the owner and operator of the Bricks & Hops beer garden in the Bronx, N.Y. and also enjoys golfing and fishing in his free time.
Moreover, he hopes to become fluent in Spanish, learn a form of martial arts, lose weight and focus on being both a good father and good husband. On top of that, he wants to continue to work in both radio and television and is looking to become a gameshow host similar to Michael Strahan, who currently hosts The $100,000 Pyramid on ABC, or Steve Harvey, longtime host of the syndicated program Family Feud.
“When you talk to people about how they evolve, they can only address their bank account,” Colon said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you changed, that means you earned a lot more money. I want to evolve.”
Former athletes entering into the world of sports media garner credibility to large sectors of the viewing audience because they have firsthand experience playing professional sports. However, that ethos can quickly diminish if they are not able to effectively express their knowledge to an audience.
Colon often thinks about Tedy Bruschi, a three-time Super Bowl champion and current NFL analyst on ESPN and how he was able to assimilate himself into the industry. Reflecting back on his first year on the air, Bruschi was not satisfied with his performance and decided to act more resolutely towards the profession so he would be able to deliver viewers the best product possible.
“He said, ‘You know what? If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this,’” Colon said of Bruschi. “He showed up with a briefcase. He showed up with a suit and tie and he took on the craft and he attacked it. That’s why he’s good on-air and that’s why he’s good at what he does right now – because he took the role seriously.”
Willie Colon is willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to make a name for himself in sports media and he has no plans of slowing down. Improving on a daily basis in both television and radio is on the front page of his playbook, and he knows that operating off of his résumé will only take him so far. Instead, it takes establishing legitimacy within the sports media industry itself to genuinely succeed in a post-playing career no matter the medium.
“If you’ve been blessed enough to wear a gold jacket, meaning the Hall of Fame, they love you in the beginning,” Colon said regarding large sports media networks. “After a while, you’ve got to understand that you… probably [have] a two to three-year period where you can ride off your name and then it becomes: ‘Okay, what else do you have?’ They’re kind of over the allure and over the mystique of you [and] you’ve got to put in the work.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
How Can An Alternate Broadcast Top the Main Broadcast?
I was curious as to what would have to happen, what parameters would have to be met, for one of these alternate broadcasts to grab higher ratings than the main telecast.
We are in the world of the alternate broadcasts. It came suddenly, without warning, and we slowly accepted it for special events, like college football national championships and the Final Four. Then, the damn thing exploded to Monday Night Football, but it was Peyton Manning so we relented. Now, the alternate broadcast is near an invasive species.
I found myself watching one of them this past weekend when I tuned in for the Pat McAffee-Cast, McAffeeCast, PatCast, whatever it ends up being titled. It was pretty early on that I figured this wasn’t my cup of tea. But also neither was North Carolina State-Clemson. I was curious as to what would have to happen, what parameters would have to be met, for one of these alternate broadcasts to grab higher ratings than the main telecast.
The reality is, this will be a difficult ask. For one, the main telecast is comfort. No matter who is calling the game, seeing the feed interrupted by picture-in-picture is what people gravitate to. Also, hearing commentary just pertaining to the game itself tends to also be a connective force that some folks just don’t want to stray from. But let’s try.
First thing we need, major distribution. No disrespect to ESPN2, but that ain’t ESPN or ABC. If we want this thing to work, a main feed would have to go on one heavily-sought after and viewed channel and the other can host our alternate feed. While we are on it, this is pie-in-the-sky talk, so FOX we are going to need you to step away from the table. Same with Amazon and ESPN. Disney can do this. They have to.
Next, let’s remove some of the barriers for people. The alternate broadcast should have a traditional play-by-play, analyst setup with ancillary around it. The twist, bringing in a big enough name to do the play-by-play that could get enough curious onlookers to stay for a while or, my favorite, a cross-over spectacular. I think this is where it could get fun. Remember, we have to keep game credibility so die-hards will stay, but we need a voice that’s enough of one to have people perk up. For one-night only, Gus Johnson arrives in the booth.
For the analyst, I think it’s simple: Pat McAfee. One, it keeps him off another alternate broadcast that tries to pop-up. Two, whatever that guy does, draws ears, eyes and impressions. People tune it like and dislike him and as long as they are tuning in, we are golden. By the way, the analyst will be good but we have more surprises in store that will not have him in the top five of discussion points after our new alternate edition.
We have to give stuff away. Period. Peyton Manning drew 1.63 million viewers to Monday Night Football this week, compared to the actual game’s 10.863 million viewers. We need gimmicks. Credit to the aforementioned McAfee, he knows this too and during the first PatCast was giving items away. We have to go big. And we have to go all game. I am talking about having a keyword to text every sixty seconds affair. Sports betting companies are great for the free credits, for those not in those states, we got gear, tickets to games, cash, etc and multiple winners each minute. I’m not here to get the prizes, I am here to tell you how to beat the main broadcast. If you want to break the habits of detractors and you want them flipping over, you have to make it worth their time.
The final step is guests. Clearly the greatest booth in the world is subjective to you and me and no matter how strong the game coverage will be, we will need a tease of rotating guests and I am suggesting we sign up real movers, real shakers. Names that draw interest from across platforms and walks of life that for one full quarter each, will jibber-jabber about the game and ONLY THE GAME (like I could promise that). Want to hear who I call?
The first quarter will take care of itself mostly for people wanting the game and the rubberneckers wanting to see what this chaos is all about. Nothing too heavy needed to open the show, but we need a strong hit. Right out of the gate I am leading with Barack Obama. It’s an easy sell. No one is followed more on Twitter than he and do you not think people would tune in to see what this young fella is doing calling a game for more than a segment?
The second quarter is where you get a lot more gamblers running in to check in on their first half numbers, the game is still very much in doubt but we need an even stronger pick. Someone that is an entertainer, maybe the most electrifying one: The Rock. On all social he is active. On all social he is followed by the masses. And he is EVERYWHERE. Plus, a sporting background doesn’t hurt.
The third quarter is the malaise quarter. It’s not the most important one for fans by any stretch and people tend to miss a chunk of the beginning of it just because we all forget how long a halftime actually is. It’s probably the most important one for the broadcast. Enter Will Smith. Look, you know exactly the reason. There has been no bigger culturally discussed story this year than the one involving him at the Oscars. Embrace it.
The fourth quarter is where I schedule my cleanup hitter. This one is tricky. The game can be well decided by now or tight, who knows? I have to be prepared with a guest that can bring eyes in no matter the situation. His name is Donald Trump. You say whatever you want about the man, people care. He has no problem talking about nay subject, ever. Just do any searching of his name ever.
Sound excessive? Yeah. Would this work? It’s my best shot. Because honestly, the alternate broadcasts aren’t there for the die-hard fans, its for casual folks for a particular game. That’s why the PatCast for the North Carolina State-Clemson game was so interesting. 251,000 people tuned into that. Is that a massive number? Not really, but for a college football game that did just under half of what Monday Night Football did, it’s fascinating. McAfee, the Mannings, Dude Perfect, they all are stunt-casting the game and the game will always win, the game is always king. But could we see a network try a full-throttle attempt at making those numbers bigger than the main feed? I think one day, we will.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
Producers Podcast: Jeremy Donovan, ESPN3
When ESPN3 launched, so many schools and leagues suddenly became responsible for producing their own content. Jeremy Donovan is the guy that gets Binghamton University sports content to fans.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.