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Ken Rosenthal Wants to Write Untouchable Stories

“That is more the goal right now then breaking a transaction on Twitter. I really prefer to write an actual story. In my view, that’s how you win now.”

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When Ken Rosenthal decided that he was going to set out on a career in journalism, television was never in his mind.

It was however, something that his father wanted him to do. 

“It was never a goal of mine to be on television,” said Rosenthal. “My Dad used to tell me “Well okay you want to be a sportswriter…fine. But maybe one day you’ll be on television”,” said Rosenthal.  

“I would say Dad I’m not going on television. I don’t want to be the guy on the 11 o’clock news reading for two minutes. That’s not my idea of what I want to do.”

But that would eventually be what would happen…not reading the sports news on television for two minutes, but a career in sports journalism that also included a television component.  

Rosenthal joined FOX Sports in 2005 as a reporter for their Major League Baseball telecasts and coupled with his writing job with the Athletic, he’s got the best of both worlds going on.

“I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunities that I do,” said Rosenthal who was also an in-studio reporter for MLB Network from 2009 to 2022. 

“I don’t ever overlook that or forget it or take it for granted. Every week when I go on FOX for the broadcast, I think to myself it’s unbelievable that I get to do this and I’m really lucky. I never ever thought the television part would become part of it.”

Rosenthal graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 and promptly began his career at the York Daily Record before moving on to the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. In 1987, he landed a full-time position at The Baltimore Sun in 1987, a job he would have until 2000 when he joined The Sporting News.   

The ironic aspect of Rosenthal’s career was that he didn’t aspire to be a sports writer. His goal was to have a career in journalism, specifically on the print side.

“I wasn’t necessarily inspired to get into sports,” said Rosenthal. I wanted to work for a newspaper.

Rosenthal, a huge fan of the NHL’s New York Islanders, grew up on Long Island and was a summer intern for Newsday following his sophomore and junior years of college. The graduate of Oyster Bay High School admired the work of New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica as well as New York Post basketball writer Peter Vecsey, but he was also enjoyed the writing of Jimmy Breslin, a famous news columnist for the New York Daily News.

“I did know early on that I wanted to be a journalist,” said Rosenthal. “I didn’t know that I wanted to be a sportswriter until I got to Penn when I went to school. Basically, you had to choose between sports and news. I chose sports because I liked the guys better. The whole thing is kind of an accident.”  

Some accident!

Rosenthal has carved out a wonderful career in sports and that includes both print and electronic. As his journey evolved, so has the technology and the way that sports fans get their information. A big part of that is Twitter and it’s through that platform that Rosenthal, just like many other sports reporters, breaks news just seconds after he learns of it.

But Twitter wasn’t something that Rosenthal was interested in getting involved in early on but he was eventually convinced that it would have to become part of his toolbox.

“I remember at one point, and this must have been late 2000s, I didn’t really want to go on Twitter…I thought it was kind of dumb,” said Rosenthal. “The guys at MLB Trade Rumors said we’re not going to read your stories…we don’t have time to do that. If you want to get credit for your work, you have to put it on Twitter. I felt kind of funny about that but they were right.”

For Rosenthal, there is a small semblance of satisfaction that comes with breaking a story on Twitter, but as he sees it, it’s not the end all be all.

That’s because once one reporter breaks a story these days, there are others who will almost immediately and eventually join the party.

“The Twitter part of it is to me a little old at this point and kind of a situation where you really can’t win,” said Rosenthal. “If I break a story on Twitter, it’s my own for two minutes before someone else confirms it. That’s not where it’s at for me.”  

Rosenthal continues to break stories on Twitter and excels in his role with the MLB on FOX.  But, his first love is writing and that’s the platform that The Athletic has given him.

In his heart of hearts, Rosenthal loves to tell stories…long-form stories and not 280 characters on Twitter. 

Like breaking the Houston Astros cheating story that he wrote in 2019.

“It wasn’t a goal to set out and do a story like that,” said Rosenthal. “We did it and we ran into it but that story, no one could touch. You couldn’t confirm that in two minutes. That is more the goal right now then breaking a transaction on Twitter. I really prefer to write an actual story. In my view, that’s how you win now.”

Rosenthal joined The Athletic when it launched in 2017 and it signaled a new era in sports journalism. The newspaper business hasn’t been doing very well, but The Athletic was a new venture that came along at the right time when sports fans would get a lot of their news on a mobile device.

Again, the best of both worlds in a way for Rosenthal. Sports fans could read an actual story but just needed a little technology to be able to do it.

“I love The Athletic,” said Rosenthal. “It’s been the best in my career in many ways. It’s been the most fulfilling from a print standpoint for sure because we’ve built something very special in my opinion and built it almost from scratch and built it at a time when there was this pivot to this video movement going on and people thinking that print was, if not dead, was certainly not what it was going to be and that really bothered me.”

Something else that bothered Rosenthal at first but has certainly worked out since then occurred in 2010.

Rosenthal was getting ready to work the National League Division Series between the Phillies and Giants when David Hill, then the head of FOX Sports, decided that Rosenthal was going to wear a bowtie on the telecast.

“I didn’t understand it,” said Rosenthal. “I didn’t like it. I thought it was dumb and borderline insulting because to me it was always the work that was supposed to stand out and not the appearance.” 

“What I didn’t understand was that television is different and that his idea was simply just to distinguish me in a way that was different than my reporting or work distinguishing me. All these years later, quite obviously, he was right.”

Following that postseason, Rosenthal, at first, thought he was done wearing the bowtie…but he wasn’t.

Former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones had just launched an initiative called “Bowtie Cause” that designed bowties for charitable organizations around the country and reached out to Rosenthal.

“He said we want you to wear our bowties,” said Rosenthal. “My first reaction was no I’m not doing this. I’m not wearing the bowties anymore. And then cooler head prevailed and I figured out that FOX is still going to want me to do this and I might as well get some semblance of control over it. And that’s really how it started and I never imagined that it would become a thing and something that did identify me. Now, if I make an appearance on television without a bowtie, people will say hey where’s the bowtie.”  

Rosenthal has certainly accomplished a lot in his career, but while he still has a lot of gas left in tank with what he’s doing now he does have one long-term objective that he’d like to conquer somewhere along the line.

“The one thing I guess I would like to do is write a book about all the things I’ve experienced in my career but that’s not going to happen for a long time,” said Rosenthal.

That’s because Ken Rosenthal, even though he may call it an accident, is still enjoying the best of both worlds in his sports journalism career.

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BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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