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Conflict Leads to Content

“If a host gets 50 percent of the listeners to agree, and the other 50 percent to disagree, that’s a guaranteed win.”



Most people don’t wake up and think, “How can I get others to disagree with me today?” Many occupations don’t function that way. But sports radio is one of the industries that absolutely thrives on disagreements. Conflict is a main pillar upon which the industry is built.

Take the College Football Playoff for instance. For months this season there were debates galore about which teams should make it, which teams shouldn’t, who might get screwed, what if this or that happens. By the time games ended last Saturday it was obvious that four teams — Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati — belonged in the CFP. Poof, the conflict disappeared. The conversations vanished also. 

College Football Playoff Selection Show – Instant Insight from ESPN  Analysts about the CFP Semifinals and the New Year's Six - ESPN Press Room  U.S.
Courtesy: ESPN

The focus immediately shifted to who should be seeded where. It was like, “What’s the next thing we can argue about?” It’s just such a striking example that when we mostly agree about something, there really isn’t much to talk about.

Sports radio hosts need to form topics that many listeners actually disagree with. Those people might chime in with their arguments, but they certainly won’t tune out.

Now, there are some pitfalls and hot take landmines surrounding this tactic. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit was guilty of manufacturing conflict last Sunday during ESPN’s announcement show. When it was unveiled that No. 4 Cincinnati had earned a playoff berth, Herbstreit made a few comments about the Bearcats that were dripping with sarcasm. He basically flip-flopped in front of the football world.

Herbstreit was like whoa, what’s this? A Group of 5 school in the Playoff? I thought there was a lot of buzz that the committee would never do such a thing.

Yeah dude, there was a lot of chatter that a Group of 5 school would never be included, and you were one of the main chatterboxes leading that charge. Herbstreit conveniently forgot that he was very skeptical in the past about Group of 5 schools deserving a spot in the CFP.

It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Candy corn is awful,” and then years later say, “Candy corn is awesome and I don’t understand why all of these people say otherwise.” It would be a contradiction that caused many to scratch their heads. The reaction would be, “I thought you were the anti-candy corn guy, and now you’re campaigning for it?”

Stirring the pot in an effort to generate conflict isn’t automatically wrong, but when you’ve stirred the pot in the exact opposite direction, it can be an awful look. The public keeps receipts on your previous comments. It’s silly to pull a 180 on what you’ve previously said.

Another temptation to avoid while trying to create conflict is a good old-fashioned hot take. Desperate attempts to attract attention are just embarrassing. On that same ESPN announcement show, it would have gotten quite the reaction if a host said, “Cincinnati is going to win it all.” Cue eyes being rolled. The reaction would be, “Really? You actually believe the Bearcats, who struggled against Tulsa and Navy, are going to take down Alabama and then probably Georgia?”

If no one believes your words are genuine, you’ll be looked at like a clown.

What's it like being a clown? | Boing Boing

I think the goal for sports talk hosts is to be like Vegas. When it comes to betting, Las Vegas wants to attract an equal amount of money on each side of a contest. That way they’re guaranteed a payday because of the juice, which is basically a tax when placing bets. Vegas is guaranteed a win.

If a host gets 50 percent of the listeners to agree, and the other 50 percent to disagree, that’s a guaranteed win. Think about it; if half of the people concur, it shows that the host isn’t a crazy person who’s saying something outlandish just to get attention. And if the other half sees things differently, it generates a conversation. Boom, success.

When hosts pour half and half into their morning coffee, that should be a good reminder to get half of the audience to agree with their opinions, while the other half differs. That’s a winning formula. This obviously doesn’t need to be the case for every single point of view that’s expressed on a show. That’s impossible. But it’s just a smart approach to have this in mind when generating topics.

I believe that hosts should not only be aware of how things sound, but also how things feel. A musician doesn’t write music without being aware of how the song feels. While conflict is a driving force in sports radio, too much of it can be overkill.

Hosts need what I call Joy to the World topics from time to time. Taking a break from all of the debates to laugh at Brian Kelly’s fake accent is useful. Sharing stories about the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign in Week 13 is uplifting.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris, who was once homeless, represented his Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation that assists underserved families. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski showed his support for military and veteran causes by honoring United States Organizations. He also highlighted his Gronk Nation Youth Foundation and said that when you wear size 16 cleats, you can support two causes.

There might be a few bah humbug people out there that have something negative to say about players supporting charities that are important to them, but overwhelmingly we’re going to agree that this is awesome. There’s a reason why Scott Van Pelt starts off SportsCenter with the Best Thing I Saw Today; it’s upbeat and fun. It’s valuable for sports radio hosts to take a breather from disagreements as well.

Best Thing I Saw Today: Arkansas State gets first win - ESPN Video
Courtesy: ESPN

A sports talk show can’t be all Kumbaya though. Sure, some laughs and some cool stories are helpful, but it can’t be all lovey-dovey. That isn’t how sports fans are wired. Fans have strong opinions and opposing views. It would be a sin for hosts not to tap into that and use it to their advantage.

Debate and disagreement are the bread and butter of sports radio. We just simply aren’t going to agree about everything. Embrace that fact and seek it out instead of running away from it. Debates don’t need to be contentious — reasonable minds can disagree — but in sports radio, conflict is king.

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.



grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on 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:

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

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



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.



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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