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NBC Saying Goodbye to Two of Its Best, Al Michaels and Michele Tafoya

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work.

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The old saying in sports and I guess life in general is, “Go big or go home.” NBC is taking that message to heart in quite a large way. The network that is currently airing some 2,800 hours of Olympics coverage from Beijing over its on-air and streaming platforms, will also be airing the Super Bowl this Sunday in Los Angeles. The folks at NBC are certainly hoping they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew in this case.

There are multiple storylines for the game broadcast, and I’m not talking about stories generated about the Los Angeles Rams or Cincinnati Bengals. NBC is saying goodbye to one important on-air talent and may be saying the same to a major part of its coverage of the NFL over the last decade-plus. There is a lot to digest here, so let’s start with the actual task of doing justice to both the Super Bowl and the Olympics simultaneously.

NBC is no stranger to either big event. The network has broadcast the Winter Olympics for years and has been the home for 19 previous Super Bowl telecasts. But this time around, the rarity of televising both huge events will prove to be a challenge, but one that NBC is looking forward to.

Fred Gaudelli is the executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football and will be the game producer for Super Bowl LVI. This is the seventh Super Bowl for Gaudelli in this role. While the Olympics telecasts focus on not just the action, but the stories surrounding Team USA and others, the Super Bowl telecast will focus on Southern California.

“We had this idea to do an open that kind of merged Hollywood and the Super Bowl, and we were able to get Halle Berry to be the host of this open, and it’s a lot of movie clips of famous football movies. It’s obviously some Super Bowl clips and some really great cameos by Hollywood actors and Super Bowl luminaries,” Gaudelli said in a video conference.

“SoFi is a magnificent architectural structure and we show that off. If you want to say L.A. proper, I believe the last Super Bowl in L.A. proper would have been Miami and Washington when Miami completed the perfect season back in 1973.”

Gaudelli added that there will be a Los Angeles flavor in the look of the graphics and it will be “sprinkled in throughout the broadcast of the game.” The network will unveil new graphics and a new scorebug for the telecast.

There will be one face/voice tying both the Olympic coverage and Super Bowl coverage together for NBC: Mike Tirico. He is serving as the host for both the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl telecasts. Tirico will leave China and then return to Los Angeles for Super Bowl programming.

THE FINAL HURRAH?

Super Bowl LVI could be the last time on NBC for two of the network’s sports stars. One is leaving for sure. It has been announced that Michele Tafoya leave as sideline reporter after Sunday’s game. The other is Al Michaels, who is in the final year of his contract.

Zade Rosenthal

Michaels has been the voice of the NFL on NBC since the network got back into the football business in 2006. The 77-year-old hasn’t stated his future plans publicly, but said it was exciting to be a “free agent” for one of the few times in his career.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I do know I will have the opportunity to continue and I want to,” Michaels said earlier this week in an interview with The Associated Press. “The time is coming now after the Super Bowl where I will think about a lot of things. I’ve got a couple of people very close to me who I trust their judgment, insight, and what they’ll say in terms of what is next.”

This is Michaels’ fifth Super Bowl for NBC and his 11th overall, tying him with Pat Summerall for the most ever by a lead announcer.

“Pretty much before the season began, I knew that I wanted to just enjoy this year because it was the end of this particular deal,” Michaels said to the AP’s Joe Reedy. “I knew if I got distracted by other things, it would take away from just enjoying the people I work with and just having a hell of a time. And I’ve been able to do that.”

Both Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, tie into the life and career of Michaels. He rose to prominence in Cincinnati in 1971 when he was the Reds announcer for three seasons. On the other hand, Michaels lives within 10 miles of the Super Bowl location in Los Angeles. Thankfully, this will not be the last time we see Michaels on a football broadcast. He’s one of the best ever in the business and I’m glad to know we’ll see him somewhere next season.

The same may not be said for Tafoya. Her fifth Super Bowl assignment may be the last one for the veteran sideline reporter. In early January, the network announced she was leaving. The Super Bowl game will be her 327th NFL game.

“Some may consider me crazy to walk away from one of the more coveted roles in sports television, and I do not doubt that I will miss many aspects of the job,” Tafoya said in NBC’s press release.

“But for some time, I have been considering other areas I would like to explore both personally and professionally. I couldn’t ignore that little voice anymore after what we have all endured over the last few years. There’s no better way to walk away from covering the NFL than with one more Super Bowl!”

Tafoya’s media career began in 1993, and she started her current role with NBC Sports and Sunday Night Football in 2011. Tafoya has evolved into one of the top, if not the top, sideline reporter in the NFL. For those that may think the role of reporter isn’t an important one to a broadcast, well, you should probably think again. The stories told through her lens are powerful and meaningful to the broadcast.

If you don’t believe me, take the words of Michaels, who’s worked with Tafoya on ABC and NBC, with the NFL and the NBA. When he found out Tafoya was retiring, he described her in this way.

“Michele Tafoya is the perfect broadcast partner. I’ve worked with Michele on close to 350 telecasts and she always hits it out of the park. Her preparation is unmatched and her ability to convey what she’s addressing in the moment is flawless. And she does it in the snow or rain or heat or any element you can think of,” Michaels said to Bleacher Report.

“What she does on the air speaks for itself but what she does behind the scenes in fleshing out stories through the years has been invaluable to me and to John Madden, Cris Collinsworth, Doc Rivers, Hubie Brown, and every production unit she’s been a part of. And on top of all this is who she is—brilliant, funny, compassionate, understanding and a mom who just happens to have raised, along with husband Mark, two beautiful children. Working with Michele has been pure joy.”

Michaels hit on the key to Tafoya’s success over the years. Preparation. Putting in the work, well before the game she’ll be reporting on. The best of the best truly are ready to perform by the time the lights go on. Storylines before a game are critical and not just the obvious low-hanging fruit. Whichever team she is covering, you can be sure that her reports will be well-researched and presented in an upbeat and professional manner.

The importance of her position can’t be understated either. The viewer relies on the on-air reporter to provided updated information as the game goes forward. We want to know what the mood is on the sideline. What did the coach think of the first half and what does he plan to change or continue in the second half? What is the injury update on my favorite player? We lean on our sideline reporters for all of that information.

I preach that to my students at the Illinois Media School when they perform sideline reporting at basketball games. Be ready to go right when you get to the arena. In other words, come with a plan and be ready to execute it. Don’t give me stats, don’t give me information that will intrude on what the broadcasters in the booth are going to give the audience. Be a complimentary piece. Notice things, pay attention, and be ready at all times.

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. I know that it’s not, because I’ve tried my hand at it a few times. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work. Earning trust and forming relationships is paramount in her pursuit of information. The well-respected journalist isn’t afraid of the tough questions, but athletes know they’re going to get a fair shake with her.

Much respect to Tafoya and the NBC broadcast crew. Have a great show!

DID YOU KNOW?

For the first time, the NFL did not move the big game to avoid conflicting with the Olympics.
NBC actually swapped seasons with CBS so that it could air the two major sporting events together. CBS was originally scheduled to air the Super Bowl in 2022, but changed to 2021 instead. That allowed CBS to coordinate ad deals with its NCAA Basketball Tournament coverage, which the network only holds rights to in odd-numbered years, thanks to the deal with Turner Sports.

Normally Super Bowl broadcast rights rotate among NFL rights holders CBS, NBC and Fox in a set order, which was upset due to the CBS-NBC swap. As part of a new broadcast agreement, ABC will also gain a Super Bowl in 2026 for the first time since the 2005 season.

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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