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Shaky Start For ESPN’s New Monday Night Football Crew

Jason Barrett

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It’s only week one, but if you were less than impressed by ESPN’s new Monday Night Football broadcast crew, you’re not alone. Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Anthony “Booger” McFarland made their regular season debut during Monday night’s Oakland Raiders-Los Angeles Rams game, and the results were less than spectacular. Granted, it’s a long season, and developing a rhythm and chemistry between three new teammates takes time. However, when you’re on a national broadcast as big as this one, patience is thin.

What surprised me the most was the trio’s lack of flow, fun, and passion. I read an article on Yahoo on Monday afternoon where Tessitore was quoted saying “people want access, they want unfiltered, they want non-corporate, they want raw” and I was encouraged. I agree with his assessment. But if you watched the game, where was the unfiltered? The non-corporate? Better yet, where was the fun and the raw powerful connection to what was transpiring on the field?

From a technical standpoint, Tessitore was fine. It wasn’t like he didn’t see or understand the game. But his calls of big game moments lacked punch, and the inconsistent flow between the broadcast’s three key voices often gets placed on the conductor’s shoulders. Joe certainly has a great voice, and has done excellent play by play work for a long time. I root for people who work their way up the ladder from Schenectady, NY to the NFL’s main stage. But whether I want them to do well or not, I still have to call it like I see it.

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Prior to his NFL arrival, Joe was a college football voice who you could count on to consistently deliver a quality broadcast. He didn’t earn the MNF opportunity by accident. But those college broadcasts don’t receive the same scrutiny that a Monday Night Football broadcast does. If you’re going to serve as the play by play announcer for ESPN’s flagship NFL property, then you have to be exceptional. Unfortunately on Monday Night, Joe was solid, not spectacular.

For example, when Marshawn Lynch powered past the Rams defense from the four yard line to the end zone, backed by an incredible effort from the Raiders O-Line, Tessitore said “Lynch, testing the middle, and getting a push, right thru. Effort play. Raiders score it.” If you watched that play as a fan you were likely much more moved by what you saw than what you heard. The play by play description didn’t match the passion felt by the viewer.

I heard the same thing when Cooper Kupp scored in the 3rd quarter to give the Rams the lead. But perhaps the most glaring omission was in the 4th quarter with the game winding down when Marcus Peters intercepted Derek Carr, and proceeded to grab his crotch while jumping into the end zone to mimic Marshawn Lynch as he scored. Tessitore failed to call that out, and point out the connection to Lynch. Instead the call was “Picked off. Marcus Peters. Strutting his stuff, and back splashing in. Pick six, Rams.”

Can you imagine Al Michaels, Jim Nantz or Joe Buck skimming past that? I can’t. The Rams twitter account was even on top of it. Before you counter with “but that’s unfair to compare him to those guys” let me remind you that this is Monday Night Football. This is ESPN’s most important NFL relationship. The announce team themselves acknowledged how different this night is from the others. If you’re going to call the elite game on the elite sports network, then you’ve got to deliver an elite performance.

Although I think Tessitore has to provide more flavor, take more control, and capture better what the audience is seeing and feeling, he wasn’t bad. In fact, I enjoyed him more than I had Sean McDonough who just didn’t mesh with Jon Gruden. I think Joe is going to be just fine. I’m not sure I can say the same for Jason Witten who simply wasn’t ready for this stage last night.

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There were times during Monday Night’s game when Witten was vacant from conversation for minutes at a time. His analysis for the most part was generic, his humor was absent, and as a viewer you were confused whether he was the #2 or #3. Fans grew frustrated on social media as the game continued and Booger McFarland’s activity increased, but ask yourself this “if Booger didn’t jump in, what exactly were you going to get out of Witten?” He was a deer in headlights far too often.

Where I was most disappointed with Witten is that he seemed to lack personality and passion. Maybe he was holding back. Maybe Tessitore didn’t set him up right. Maybe Booger’s involvement threw him off. Or maybe he just froze.

Even when Witten took a chance to say something strong (EX: Jon Gruden hasn’t had a franchise QB with the Raiders – except Witten ignored that Rich Gannon went to the Pro-Bowl during each of Gruden’s final 3 seasons in Oakland, threw for 11,000+ yards and 75 TD’s 34 INT’s during that 3-year stretch and won the MVP award after Gruden departed for Tampa), he missed the mark.

Nobody can force Jason to be someone he’s not, but he has to let the nation know who he is. Whether you’re known for being colorful, critical, the smart guy, the loud guy, the jokester or something else, personality is a vital part of an NFL broadcast. For all of the criticisms directed at Jon Gruden as an analyst for loving every player, we knew that trait about him. Grudenisms were understood because his personality allowed us to get a feel for who he was. There was none of that with Witten.

It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have a stellar track record of former players ascending to broadcast roles. Many felt Witten would make a smooth transition because of Tony Romo’s instant success as an NFL analyst on CBS. Couple that with Witten and Romo’s friendship, and the two men reportedly having superior knowledge and exceptional work habits, and you can see why so many were high on him becoming a great analyst.

But what isn’t known is how someone will perform when the lights are brightest. Witten may still turn out to be great, but his Game 1 performance left many questions. It’s up to ESPN now to find those answers.

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For Booger McFarland, I thought his energy and passion were stronger than Witten’s. His perspective on the sidelines was solid, and he wasn’t afraid to offer an opinion especially on the Khalil Mack trade which was a storyline surrounding the first Raiders game. He became too involved at times, but was that due to the crew sensing Witten wasn’t adding much? The viewing audience seemed to come away with the opinion that they heard too much from Booger and not enough from Witten. I don’t disagree.

I think Booger can do a better job of shortening his commentaries, because at times they went long. There were times where he also came across too serious. Some on social media even described him as angry. I’ve heard Booger’s personality before on radio, and seen it on TV, so as the season plays out I think he’ll find more ways to lighten up. The man doesn’t lack personality.

One part of the broadcast which stood out in positive fashion, and further highlighted the difference in skill was the halftime performance. When Louis Riddick and Steve Young talk football, it’s so damn good. Young previously declined pursuing the MNF analyst job, but Riddick openly acknowledged having interest in it. If he was bypassed because of concerns of being hired in the future as an NFL GM, I get it. If it’s for any other reason, I’d love to hear it. Few at ESPN ooze the passion, insight, and knowledge for the game of football that he does. As I listened to him on the pre, post, and halftime shows, I kept asking myself “how is this guy not in the booth?”

When it comes to the NFL we all tend to overreact. It’s common to put a team in the Super Bowl and another at the top of the draft after Week 1, so in a way I feel like I’m doing that with a new broadcast team which is trying to find itself. If the worst thing we have to say at the end of the season about this crew is that their 1st week performance was subpar, that would indicate they made progress. That’s what I’m hoping for. But the way they settle into their roles, connect to the audience, and respond to a rough start will determine how supportive ESPN remains in the future.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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Barrett News Media To Gather The Industry in Nashville in September 2023

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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One of the best parts about working in the media business is that you’re afforded an opportunity to use your creativity, take risks, and learn if an audience or advertisers will support your ideas. Sometimes you hit a homerun, other times you strike out, but regardless of the outcome, you keep on swinging.

I’ve tried to do that since launching a digital publishing and radio consulting company in 2015. Fortunately, we’ve delivered more hits than misses.

When I added news media industry coverage to our brand in September 2020, I knew it’d be a huge undertaking. The news/talk format is two and a half times larger than sports, many of its brands are powered by national shows, and the content itself is more personal and divisive. I wanted our focus and attention on news media stories, not politics and news, and though there have been times when the lines got blurred, we’ve tried to be consistent in serving industry professionals relevant content .

What made the move into news media more challenging was that I’d spent less time in it. That meant it’d take longer to find the right writers, and it required putting more time into building relationships, trust, respect, and support. Though we still have more ground to cover, we’ve made nice strides. That was reflected by the participation we received when we rolled out the BNM Top 20 of 2022 the past two weeks. Hopefully you checked out the lists. Demetri Ravanos and I will be hosting a video chat today at 1pm ET on BNM’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and through Barrett Media’s YouTube page discussing the series, as well as this article.

It’s because of that growing support, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing that I’m taking a risk yet again. I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.

I am excited to share the news that Barrett News Media will host its first ever BNM Summit on Thursday September 14, 2023 in Nashville, TN. Our one-day conference will take place at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center Ballroom. The venue we’ve selected is tremendous and I’m eager to spend a day with news/talk professionals to examine ways to further grow the format and industry.

If you’re wondering why we chose Nashville, here’s why.

First, the city itself is awesome. The access to great restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and famous landmarks is unlimited, and when you’re traveling to a city for a business conference, those things matter. Being in a city that’s easy for folks across the country to get to also doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, a conference is harder to pull off if you can’t involve successful on-air people in it. If you look at Nashville’s growth in the talk media space over the past decade, it’s remarkable. Many notable talents now live and broadcast locally, major brands have created a local footprint in the area, and that opens the door to future possibilities. I have no idea who we’ll include in the show, and I haven’t sent out one request yet because I wanted to keep this quiet until we were sure it made sense. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interest in participating and I can’t promise we’ll be able to accommodate all requests but if you have interest in being involved, send an email to Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

Third, finding the right venue is always difficult. We looked at a bunch of great venues in Nashville during our vacation this past summer, and when we stepped on to the campus at Vanderbilt University and walked through the SLC Ballroom, we knew it was the right fit. It had the space we needed, the right tech support, access to private parking, a green room for guests, and it was within walking distance of a few hotels, restaurants, and the Parthenon.

As I went through the process of deciding if this event was right for BNM, a few folks I trust mentioned that by creating a Summit for news/media folks, it could create a competitive situation. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a responsibility. I think we need more people coming together to grow the industry rather than trying to tear each other down. I hear this far too often in radio. We worry about what one station is doing rather than strengthening our own brand and preparing to compete with all audio options.

For years I’ve attended conferences hosted by Radio Ink, NAB, Talkers, and Conclave. I’ve even spoken at a few and welcomed folks who operate in the consulting space to speak at my shows. I’ll continue to support those events, read various trade sites, and invite speakers who work in a similar field because they’re good people who care about helping the industry. I believe BNM and BSM add value to the media business through its websites and conferences, and though there may be a detractor or two, I’ll focus on why we’re doing this and who it’s for, and let the chips fall where they may.

I know juggling two conferences in one year is likely going to make me crazy at times, but I welcome the challenge. In the months ahead I’ll start lining up speakers, sponsors, building the conference website, and analyzing every detail to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain and deliver an informative and professionally beneficial event. The news/talk media industry is massive and making sure it stays healthy is critically important. I think we can play a small role in helping the business grow, and I look forward to finding out on September 14th in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

Hope to see you there!

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