Q&A with Clay Travis
I was watching the movie Fight Club the other day. Brad Pitt’s character says at one point, “If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.” That thought is a good description of Clay Travis’ style. Gaining a lot of attention and a monstrous following sometimes involves ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Clay’s on-air style makes me flash back to those old-school Rolling Stone descriptions of heavy metal bands. You know the ones that are littered with a flurry of colorful and unique adjectives. The uncompromising national host of Outkick the Coverage on FOX Sports Radio, Clay Travis unleashes a relentless fury of persuasions in headstrong and unapologetic fashion. Pointed, biting, yet mixed with an authenticity and honesty that isn’t commonly accessible. Sure, that’s a little thick, but it’s also accurate.
“People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me.” If that isn’t a great evaluation of the reaction to Clay Travis, I don’t know what is. Coincidentally, those comments come from Clay’s mouth in the interview below. Clay also explains that owning his Outkick the Coverage website affords him a luxury that many others don’t possess. It helps unlock his no-holds-barred honesty on the airwaves.
Another line from Fight Club fits — “I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I’m free in all the ways that you are not.” In many ways, Clay Travis is the Tyler Durden of sports talk.
BN: Do you ever just wake up and say, “I don’t feel like dealing with crazy responses today?”
CT: (laughs) I don’t ever think about how people are going to respond to me. I definitely think when my alarm goes off in the 4:15 range in the morning central time — because I’m on east coast drive time living in the central time zone — I definitely think when it’s pitch black, “What am I doing with my life getting out of bed at 4:15am?”
I don’t really think about the way people are going to respond to what I say or write or do at all, but I definitely think, “My God, I’d like to just hit the alarm off and sleep for another three hours.” I would say that’s the most common thought I have at 4:15am when the alarm goes off. The other one is to turn the alarm off fast so I don’t wake up anybody else in the house.
Another thing is I’ve gotten pulled over a lot driving at 4:15-4:20am. I just hop in the car and get moving. It’s funny because the cops who are working the overnight shift will pull me over for going 45 in a 35 or whatever I’m doing on my way to work. It’s almost like they’re just checking to see if I’m coming home for the night or on my way to work. As soon as they see I’m on my way to work, they’re like, “Yeah, you’re fine.” I think they’re worried about drunk drivers and stuff like that because a lot of people, frankly, are still finishing their day when I’m starting mine.
BN: How long does it take for your mind to start functioning while you’re doing the show early in the morning?
CT: It doesn’t really take any time for my mind to start functioning. I’ve done middays and I’ve done afternoons. I think morning is a lot more challenging. Now, I will say it’s a lot more fulfilling because we get to talk before the new story of the day is set. Nobody has talked at all about any of the games that have happened by the time we’re talking.
I did afternoon drive for a long time in Nashville, and it’s crazy to me now with Periscope and Facebook and social media, that when I got started, I might be talking about a game that took place at noon on Saturday, and not talking about it until Monday afternoon. That’s 48 hours after the game has been over. That’s crazy to me now to think about doing something where it takes that long to react.
The other thing I’d say is great about mornings is I’m ahead of everybody. Sometimes I feel like the only people awake in the country are me and Donald Trump because I check my Twitter feed and nobody is tweeting anything. Then the president gets up and says something crazy on Twitter and it feels like he and I are the only two people up and moving that early in the morning getting in front of the news cycle. I think that all factors in. You definitely have a good sense of accomplishment. Like right now (while we’re doing this interview) it’s 10am my time and I’ve already been up for six hours.
The biggest challenge is as a dad. I used to love the time in the evening after my young kids were asleep. I could sit back and watch Netflix or I could read more regularly, and the news cycle would slow down. I would go to bed at midnight or 1am pretty much every night. I’m more of a night person than I am a day person. Now, I can’t stay up that consistently hardly at all and then turn around and do a three-hour morning show getting up at 4:15 in the morning.
BN: What has your career path been like up to this point of hosting Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?
CT: I came to do everything I’m doing through writing. I still think of myself primarily as a writer. If I had to give up everything else, I think I would give up writing the last. I moved from writing initially for an audience of zero on my own website with nobody who had any clue of who I was while I was a practicing attorney, to doing radio. I started doing radio just as radio hits as a guest.
I always tell people who are writers to do every radio interview that somebody requests (especially when you’re young) because it’s good practice. I found out that I was pretty good at radio by doing 10-15 minute hits as a guest talking about the columns that I had written. That led to a once-or-twice a week show on 104.5 The Zone. I think I was getting paid nothing. Then eventually I got paid 50 dollars a show. That led to middays on 104.5 The Zone, which led to afternoon drive, which then led to doing an NBC Sports national show. Then, I left and eventually FOX Sports Radio recruited me to come back and take over their morning show a couple of years ago.
BN: When you were doing the afternoon drive show on The Zone, was that a two or three-man show?
CT: Three man. Now, I was doing a Saturday show for NBC — a three-hour show by myself on Saturday mornings. For several years I did six days a week of radio, three hours a day. That wasn’t counting whatever radio hits I’d be doing around the country as well. I had never hosted a five-day-a-week show by myself — and look I’m not technically by myself all the time — I’ve got a couple of producers in L.A. and a producer in Nashville as well. There are a lot of people who think they can do a three-hour solo show for years at a time. I think the reality is there aren’t that many people who can do it — at least do it very well.
BN: How would you describe the differences between writing, radio and doing television?
CT: I think what you have to learn about writing versus radio versus TV is they’re all different. I think writing is the most difficult. Radio is the most time consuming. TV is the easiest. In TV, you have a huge collection of people trying to make you look good. Writing, you’re sitting in front of the screen all by yourself. Radio, you’re basically by yourself. TV, you walk in and there’s like six or seven producers and they’re like, “Hey, we think these are the 10 best topics to talk about. What’s your opinion on each of these?” If you talk for more than a minute in a row, you’ve talked for a long time on TV. By the way, a 30-minute television show is 23 minutes without commercial breaks.
There’s a reason why people don’t go very often from TV to radio to writing, and why writers, if they have the ability or the interest or desire, can go from writing to radio to TV easier. I think each step gets progressively easier. Now, there are certainly things about TV that you can’t control. You can’t control what you look like. You can’t control your mannerisms. You can’t control how your suit looks or whether your tie looks good or whether your hair looks normal. Like those are all cosmetic things and much of TV is about how you look as opposed to what you say. That’s different, where as radio everything you say — and writing, frankly, is all about the words. There’s a lot more cosmetic aspects of TV.
BN: When you’re listening to a sports talk show host, what type of style interests you most?
CT: I like to be entertained. I think the standards that apply across all those disciplines is what I try to be — smart, original, funny, and authentic. Not necessarily in every subject because sometimes you’re talking about serious subjects. Sometimes you’re talking about totally funny subjects so being really smart about it doesn’t necessarily apply, but I think over the course of your show on any given day, or over the course of my website, certainly over the course of television, my goal is to be smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think people who accomplish that on a daily basis are people that certainly I appreciate.
I’ve always said the guy I kind of pattern what I do in sports after as a young guy — I’m 38 now so I’m not that young — but the guy I used to pattern myself after to a large extent was Tony Kornheiser. I think he was the first guy to be great at writing, to be great at radio, and to be great at TV. My goal is and was to be good — and not just good but great — at all three of those disciplines.
BN: What annoys you about sports radio these days?
CT: First of all, I don’t spend that much time listening to sports radio. I think once you do it, if you spend very much time worrying about what other people are doing, I just don’t have the time and effort and energy. Other than listening to an interview here or there, or I put on Cowherd a lot because I think he’s so good, I’ll flip him on television and obviously people will send me segments and things to watch. I just don’t spend any time worrying about what anybody else is doing in sports talk radio at all. To me, I’m entirely focused on what I do, almost like tunnel vision. If I do a good job, then that’s my goal. Frankly, I really don’t care what anybody else does.
BN: When you deal with backlash over one of your comments, are you ever surprised by which ones people take exception to the most?
CT: It’s to the point now where it’s impossible to say anything on social media without backlash. Frankly, I don’t worry about it. My wife says it’s a unique part of my personality — I genuinely don’t care what people think about me. When I say that, I care what people who know me think. I care what my wife thinks. I care what my kids think. I care what people who work with me on a regular basis think, but it doesn’t really impact me what some stranger thinks about my opinion. It has zero impact on my day-to-day existence.
I think it’s almost impossible to not have backlash this day and age. I think much of it, frankly, is just total bullshit. I think it’s fake. My position has always been if you like something — watch, read, or listen to it. If you don’t, don’t. I don’t watch any television shows because I hate them. I don’t read any books because I hate them. I understand that there are certain people out there who do that. I just don’t have the time or the luxury to spend on paying attention to things I don’t like.
I spend most of the time evangelizing about television shows that I love. I don’t remember the last time that I talked about a television show outside the world of sports, and I was like, “Man, this show sucks.” I’ve got a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old. I’ve got whole seasons of television shows taped on my DVR that I haven’t been able to get to.
I don’t really worry too much about backlash at all. Maybe initially I did. Only in the sense of, “Oh my God, am I going to get fired?” But once I started my own business, and once I owned Outkick, I’m never going to fire me. So, I don’t really care what anybody says or what criticism I get because as long as I’m the boss, what are you gonna do to me?
BN: When someone is coming at you on social media, what do you consider off limits?
CT: I’ll block people immediately now if they say anything about my kids or my wife. To me it’s like the mafia. The mafia didn’t go after kids and wives. If you have an opinion with me you can say whatever you want. Pretty much, I don’t care. I might block you if you’re just blowing up my timeline. I think we’re up to almost 600,000 Twitter followers now. It’s hard to keep up with my mentions, frankly, and some days I just can’t. But if I look at something and I’m like, “Man, this guy has tweeted me 20 times in a row and he’s clearly an idiot,” I’ll just block him because I don’t like when people fill my timeline up. Outside of my timeline getting filled up, obviously wife and kids. To me it’s all business or family in general. That’s just beyond the pale to me. So, other than that, it just doesn’t even register with me.
BN: If you’re looking at it from your audience’s point of view and evaluating yourself, what would you say is the #1 strength you have that has helped you create a massive following?
CT: I think it’s probably honesty. Authenticity. I think we live in an inauthentic age. I think there are a lot of people who don’t always agree with my opinion, but I think the people who really like Outkick and like what I do appreciate the fact that I don’t pull any punches, and I tell people exactly what I think. I think that’s rare. I think people are so afraid of getting fired or so afraid of offending someone that they tiptoe up to their opinion, or they don’t really say what they think if they’re afraid it’s not a politically-correct opinion — it’s not a politically-correct answer.
What I see the most is people saying, “Thank God for saying what you actually believe, because I think that’s rare.” I would say that’s probably what resonates for the people who like me the most. That’s probably what they would say or resonates the most. Like I said, my goal is kind of an acronym context — it’s SOFA — smart, original, funny, and authentic. I think authenticity is so rare that it’s what registers the most.
BN: Is having the freedom to say something that somebody else might not what you love the most?
CT: When I started Outkick, my goal with the website was to say exactly what I wanted to say and not ever worry about what anybody thought, and have total creative freedom to write, say, and think whatever I want. That is what I value the most. Plenty of people are like, “ Oh, Clay Travis says what he says for money or attention” or whatever else. I’ve turned down money in exchange to maintain my creative freedom.
I would say there are certain people out there who say, “Clay Travis is a sellout.” To the extent that selling out means that you will do whatever it takes to make the most money possible, you can talk to every employer that I’ve ever worked with. Whether it’s FOX, whether it’s FOX Sports Radio, whether it was The Zone back in the day, whether it was FanHouse, Deadspin, CBS Sports, all of them. There have been times where I’ve been offered more money to do what I’m doing, but have to have more restraint on what I say, think, or do. I’ve turned down the more money in favor of creative freedom.
Certainly you can say it at FOX. Certainly you can say it at FOX Sports Radio. You can certainly say it at FanHouse back in the day, everywhere else. I kind of gravitated toward the space where I can say what I want to say, and write what I want to write. I haven’t chased money because I could’ve made more money just by kind of tamping down and tapering off some of the stuff that I say.
BN: How would you assess your time doing Outkick on FOX Sports Radio?
CT: I think it’s going really well. We developed a really substantial audience. They can speak to the numbers better than I can, but I think our numbers are up something like 84% over the last year. We’re approaching 300 AM/FM affiliates, got satellite radio, the podcast — I don’t know what the final numbers for January are going to be, but it’s going to be in the millions. It’ll be the biggest month that we’ve ever had. I kind of pay attention to that stuff along the way.
I know that we’re growing and growing pretty rapidly just based on what I see on Facebook and Periscope and whatnot. I’ve enjoyed it and think it’s been successful. Do I want to do it forever? No. If you told me in 15 years that I was still going to be getting up at 4:15, I don’t think I’d want to do that, but I like it now. And I love my producers, who work hard on the show, and my bosses. They’ve had my back completely. Don Martin and Scott Shapiro are the best bosses I’ve ever had.
BN: You’ve been involved in a few controversies. I don’t want to get too personal, but how does it work at home? How does your wife handle some of the things you’ve been in the middle of?
CT: I think she was more nervous before I quote unquote “made it” with Outkick. Now, I don’t want to say that I could never work again because I’m obviously not that wealthy, but if suddenly I didn’t have any jobs from anybody other than Outkick, I would be perfectly fine for the rest of my life.
I think the fear on her part is she would say certainly much of being married to me is living in a constant fear that I’m going to say or do something that provokes an outrageous and outlandish reaction. I think that fear kind of diminishes every day, week, and month going forward because at this point I think my audience has got my back. I control so much of the means of my own distribution that what are they going to do? Just stop reading my articles on Outkick? Stop reading my tweets? Stop watching my Periscope and Facebook shows?
People who get mad at me fuel the people who like me. It’s a 50/50 universe. And so, the idea that somebody out there would decide, “I want to shut down Clay Travis. He shouldn’t be able to say or write what he says,” I think fuels the people that are out there that support me. I don’t think those people are ever going to leave. I just don’t worry about it. I’ve got a big audience and I think that audience has my back and won’t leave me as long as I continue to be smart, original, funny, and authentic.
I can’t speak to my wife’s day-to-day opinion of me. Like any wife I’m sure she’s frustrated and upset with her husband on a regular basis, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of anything I’m doing in a professional context. Look, I’m a pretty good dad. I’m around my kids a lot. They don’t judge me for any of my public persona because they don’t listen to the show. The feedback that they get growing up in Nashville is phenomenal. We’ve got a huge fan base here. The kids, I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything bad to them. They’re like, “You’re dad’s Clay Travis. That’s awesome. I love the show. I love his site.” From their perspective, I think they genuinely believe everybody on Earth loves their dad because the negativity they’re not exposed to.
BN: Do you think that your style brings out more honesty and edge with the people around you on the show such as your producers, the board op, update guy and even your listeners?
CT: Well, I think honesty is rare. When you are honest, sometimes people are initially shocked by it, and they will follow it up with more honest responses than they would typically give. I think much of sports and sports talk radio is cliché now. To the extent you can break through the cliché with a direct honest opinion — I think that works to the benefit of the show whether it’s producing, callers or tweeters. I think all of that kind of melds together into a symphony of an outstanding way to spend the morning. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s ultimately for other people to judge, but that’s kind of my goal every morning.
BN: As far as approaching topics on a show, how do you decide what to focus on?
CT: I think I’m good at knowing what subjects people are going to care about. I think that comes from writing. I think that comes from being active on the internet. I think you can give me 10 subjects and I can say, “Okay, I can make these three interesting. And I have strong opinions on these three.” I don’t think it’s always the best subjects. I think it’s the subjects that you feel the strongest about.
For instance, as we’re having this conversation, I just finished the show a couple hours ago and this morning the baseball Hall of Fame vote came out. Some people will spend a lot of time talking about whether they think Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame. I think the answer is yes, but I don’t find that to be a very interesting subject. Like okay, the answer is yes, and what then goes beyond that? I can talk about it, but I don’t particularly care. If I were in my car, I wouldn’t want to hear somebody talk about the same subject that has existed for what? 10 years? That’s been debated how should you consider steroids?
For the same reason I don’t do Michael Jordan versus LeBron James. There’s literally nothing that somebody can say about that subject interestingly until every year of LeBron James’ career is over. Then you can go back and say, “Okay, how does LeBron compare to Michael Jordan after 12 years” or whatever, but even in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing else going on, I don’t find that to be an interesting topic.
Now, I think much like with cable news, they have found out that you only want to talk about the three or four biggest stories in your mind in your world. That’s what I do. There are some people — we’ve got 12 segments in a three-hour show — there are some people who will come on with 10 or 12 different subjects and have their entire show kind of sketched out that way. I’ll rarely go more than four subjects total. And that’s because I think about if I’m in my car driving to work, do I want to hear Clay Travis talk about the three or four biggest stories in detail, or do I want to hear him touch on 12 stories? I want to hear the three or four biggest stories in detail, something that I care about on that day’s basis as opposed to just having somebody go all in on it.
The other thing is, we don’t have that many guests. A lot of people guest up. We don’t ever have a guest on Monday. There’s so much to react to during football season, I come on and I just talk. Usually, there’s a lot of stuff that happens over the weekend and on Mondays there are a lot of topics in general. It’s rare that we have more than two guests. In a three-hour show we might have a guest on for two segments. So that means we’ve got 10 segments to fill.
I’m not a big guest guy. I think people are tuning in because they want to hear what I have to say, or what people on the show have to say. I think they want to hear us talk about the biggest possible stories. That’s what I kind of work towards in the context of what the show structure should look like.
BN: What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now if you’re not waking up at 4:15 in the morning and getting pulled over by cops?
CT: I don’t know what I’m doing in six months. 10 years from now to me is so far in advance. The easy way to answer that is 10 years ago I was a 28-year-old who was publishing his first book. 13 years ago I was graduating from law school and never could’ve projected where I am today, not necessarily having to do with the success of it at all, just what I’m doing. I don’t think that I ever would’ve predicted that I’d be doing what I’m doing now. So a decade from now? I’ve got no idea. I just don’t want to die. I hope I’m still alive in ten years because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think the next decade is going to be really fun.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids. Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and actively shunning the sport.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.