Football, basketball, baseball. Sports media in the United States is consistently dominated by these major sports, with storylines aplenty and talking points for debate posed to generate new content geared to bring auspicious ratings and steady revenue.
Throughout the month of March, NCAA March Madness has comprised the preponderance of sports media content, especially due to the fact that 15th seeded Saint Peter’s advanced to the Elite 8, and that Duke and North Carolina will meet in tournament play for the first time this weekend.
Sure, football, basketball and baseball are central to much of America’s sports consumption – but not all of it. Combat sports bring in formidable ratings and revenue for the athletes, leagues and media companies. Pay-per-view fights and large-scale events are quite popular among sports fans. Yet they are rarely spoken about on sports radio, meaning that their content needed to find a home, and that their fans needed to be driven there to find the kind of content they have been looking for.
Marissa Rives is the program director of SiriusXM Fight Nation, the satellite service’s home for combat sports, and she never thought she’d be doing this; that is, until she was exposed to what was possible.
Starting in this industry, according to Rives, often starts with a “frivolous idea,” and growing up as a New York Yankees fan, she became enamored with the idea of covering a professional sports team. Kim Jones, who was the YES Network reporter for Yankees games from 2005 to 2012, interviewed players in the clubhouse after games and followed the team, a job that excited Rives and got her thinking about sports broadcasting as a potential career path.
As a result, Rives attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, a 16-week trade school that she called a “crash course in broadcasting.” Shortly after at 19 years old, she began working as an intern at SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio with The B Team, hosted by Bruce Murray and Bill Pidto.
Working in this role allowed Rives to gain exposure to many parts of radio, including planning shows, interacting directly with on-air talent and editing audio. Up until that point, Rives had not decided whether she wanted to venture into radio or television; however, this experience clarified her stance on the two platforms.
“It just made me see that this is an industry I [could] see myself being in for a very long time, and it solidified that radio was the course I really wanted to go – and not television,” Rives said.
Interning at SiriusXM was not the only thing Rives was doing at the time though. For nearly two years, she worked in a part-time role for DeCheser Media as a legal videographer, driving to courthouses in the northeast to film depositions. The role paid well, but involved a routine point-and-shoot setup that had Rives monitoring video being taken by a camera on a tripod. Shortly after Rives was offered a part-time role at SiriusXM, her boss at DeCheser Media offered her a full-time job doing legal videography in an effort to retain her services, coercing her into making a decision that shaped the future of her career.
“When you’re interning at SiriusXM at the same time and you see what your life could be and the path you could go down in sports radio versus a kind of very sterile, non-creative field like point-and-shoot court depositions,” Rives explained, “I think if anything it taught me a lot and what I didn’t want long-term for my career.”
Once Rives began working part-time at SiriusXM, her goal was to get her foot into the door inside a live studio running a board any way she could. Declining a potential opportunity to expand her skillset and grow was simply not an option for her. In maintaining this attitude, Rives was afforded the chance to work with the show Fight Club on SiriusXM as a board operator, and eventually, as its producer.
“I knew I could get into MMA because I was a big pro wrestling fan growing up, [although] I hadn’t watched in a while,” said Rives. “People fighting and the theatrics of all of it is something I could dig, so I started running the board. [From] the moment I was involved with [a] show that had to do with combat sports, I just knew that if I was going to grow, I needed to absorb myself in it and learn everything I could. I really just fell in love with everything about it and never really looked back from there.”
Since that time, Rives has taken on various endeavors that led her to becoming program director of SiriusXM Fight Nation in 2018, including working as manager of SiriusXM Sports Zone and executive producer of SiriusXM Rush.
Rives has served as an architect for SiriusXM Fight Nation since its launch in 2015, inking former wrestling and MMA stars to contracts to host shows on the satellite radio channel. Whether it is Throwing Down with Renee and Miesha, featuring former UFC champion Miesha Tate and former WWE commentator Renee Paquette; At the Fights with the former commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission and boxing journalist Randy Gordon and former professional boxer Gerry Cooney; or Busted Open with WWE Hall of Fame members Mark Henry and Bully Ray, along with former ECW wrestler Tommy Dreamer and wrestling commentator Dave LaGreca, Rives has overseen the channel to ensure it is putting out engaging content that appeals to fans of combat sports.
“For me, it’s exciting because I really have an opportunity to bring in high-class athletes that might not have the [same] opportunities as maybe a football player who can kind of go to all these different markets and potentially get a gig talking football,” said Rives. “You’re not going to find many pro wrestling shows like Busted Open…. You don’t get much of that, so it definitely helps you pave your way within a space as well and stand out, and I think that’s a little bit harder with some of the more mainstream sports to be able to do that.”
One aspect of SiriusXM Fight Nation that has been absent for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic is live remote broadcasts. Prior to the pandemic, Rives helped organize the Busted Open 10-year anniversary party. They filled all three floors of a New York City bar to capacity and welcomed various special guests to the broadcast.
Live remotes are slowly starting to return to many sectors of the media industry, and on this upcoming Saturday, April 2, Rives seeks to raise the bar with the two-hour Busted Open live special prior to WrestleMania 38 at Arlington Backyard at Texas Live! adjacent to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Additionally, full-scale audiovisual production of a comedic roast of show creator and host Dave LaGreca is set to take place and will be available to watch afterward on the SiriusXM mobile app.
“I hired comedy writers, and all of a sudden I went from a sports program director to a comedy production person,” said Rives. “I live to be able to merge what we do in a studio every day with the fans…. We’re really excited; a lot of work has gone into this one.”
Rives enjoys taking on new challenges and recently has moved into the podcasting space by becoming the active director of sports podcasts at SiriusXM. In this role, Rives is leading the effort to grow the selection of sports podcasts across SiriusXM’s programming portfolio.
The broadcasting company recently released Hope Solo Speaks, a podcast featuring two-time Olympian and World Cup-winning goaltender Hope Solo discussing issues important to her, including women’s rights, family and the fight for gender equality. Additionally, she is now working directly with podcasts such as Inside the Green Room with Danny Green, and Let’s Go! with Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray, and is working on developing and releasing more projects in the future.
“I’m really lucky [to have had] an opportunity to develop Fight Nation over the last six-and-a-half years, and now I’m getting a chance to really be on the ground floor of the next effort at SiriusXM to continue to develop our podcast content and programming,” said Rives. “It’s really exciting to take more and kind of push yourself outside of [your] comfort zone. I’ve been a combat sports girl for a long time, so it’s nice to be able to work with some different types of talent beyond just what I’ve been doing.”
With such ferocious growth in the podcasting sector of media, some traditionalists have feared the cessation of terrestrial radio as more consumers opt for on-demand content available whenever, wherever and however they want. Working in both spaces, Rives knows that the two means of aural consumption can indeed coexist, utilizing the strengths of each to improve upon their current products to satisfy the “appetite for audio content.”
“Instead of looking at it as, ‘Okay, this is some other thing that younger people are into,’ it’s just saying, ‘Look at the great content we’re already creating in radio. How do we tap into this, maybe rework it a bit and attract a different audience potentially with this same talent?” said Rives. “I think radio is probably better off now that podcasts were hot than it was a decade ago.”
Aside from the growth of podcasts, Rives is also encouraged by more women seeking careers in sports media and having the ability to genuinely contribute their ideas and opinions to conversations shaping the next stage of media growth. She believes that hearing voices from both of these genders will only benefit media companies by allowing them to consider multiple perspectives and make cognizant decisions that will serve the public interest.
“I think companies are taking it seriously that having the diversity of thought of both men and women involved in an organization just makes it better,” said Rives. “I think it’s less about ticking a box and saying, ‘Hey, we filled a quota, and now we have a woman on staff.’ I feel [like] it’s more about finally appreciating the fact that women really add to the coverage, and that there are women sports fans out there [that] do appreciate seeing other women.”
Rives was recently named as one of Cynopsis Media’s 2021 Top Women in Media, an honor that she hopes will inspire other women to seek careers in sports media, just as she was inspired to do in her youth. She knows that the future is bright for women in sports media and looks to lead by example through the work that she has already done and that she will do as her career progresses.
“It meant a lot, and it continues to mean a lot to me and I think I wear it with a point of pride as I look to continue to inspire other young women to come forth in sports media or any sort of media for that matter, and to be behind the scenes as producers and directors,” Rives said. “It just helps me continue with the goals I’ve always had for myself.”
Rives would not have made it to where she is today without persistence, hard work and the willingness to try new things. From going to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting; to interning at SiriusXM at 19 years old; to turning down a full-time legal videography job; to learning about combat sports on the job; to working in radio and podcasting simultaneously, Rives versatility and poise to succeed and elevate SiriusXM is undeniable. Making the most of your opportunities helps everyone from novices to seasoned professionals adapt and find their place in the media industry – and all of it is possible by saying just one word: “Yes.”
By saying “Yes” to opportunities, you allow yourself to augment your versatility by being open to learning, and you show your superiors that you are ready and willing to adapt, Rives says. If making the most of these opportunities requires working longer hours and expending more effort, so be it; after all, if one wishes to succeed, they will do whatever it takes to attain success.
“If you have big aspirations, you have to put in the time and the effort,” Rives expressed. “This isn’t an easy industry, and there’s perks that come with it [but] there’s also hurdles that you have to overcome. If this is what you want to do, put the time in and it can really work out. I’m kind of proof of that.”
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 is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. 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:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
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 SFGate.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.