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Are You Allowed To Be A Fan?

“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that.”

Tyler McComas

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If there’s ever been a list of unspoken rules in sports media, not openly cheering for the team you cover seems like it would be at the top. In fact, at some point or another, you were probably told to be neutral about the team you talk or write about. ‘It’s unprofessional,’ is likely the line you were sold. 

But if sports radio is all about being your true self on the air, what if your true self is someone that’s openly a fan of the team you talk about on a day-to-day basis? If I grew up loving a team and now get to talk about them every day, why would I hide that from the audience in the pursuit to be neutral? 

Logan Booker, co-host of The Morning Show on 960 The Ref in Athens, Georgia, grew up a hardcore UGA fan. Rooting for the Bulldogs was in his blood and still serves as some of his best childhood memories. He realized a dream, when he enrolled at the University of Georgia and set out to follow his passion of covering the Dawgs. But he got a bit of a rude awakening when he found out what sports media would force him to do. 

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“The sports media program at the University of Georgia was so adamant about trying to knock that fan element out of you,” said Booker. “We were not allowed to wear anything with a sports logo on it to class. Otherwise, they’d say you’re not allowed to be here right now.”

Booker figured he’d have to give up his UGA fandom if he wanted to be in the business. Luckily, while interviewing a host at the station he works at today, he found out that didn’t have to be the case. 

“I interviewed my now co-host for a school project, during my internship at the station,” said Booker. “One of the questions I asked him, was how do you turn off the fandom when you’re working? He kind of looked at me like, what do you mean? I’m in radio I don’t have to do that.”

That was the moment Booker can pinpoint to where he knew radio was the route for him. All of the pretending he didn’t care about UGA athletics was no more. He grew up in Georgia and loved the teams within its borders. Sports radio gave him the option of wearing that on his sleeve every day.  

Richard Cross of SportsTalk Mississippi never hides the fact he graduated from Ole Miss. He’s also not shy about openly admitting he hopes the Rebels do well. Though a Mississippi State fan may occasionally call him a ‘homer’ that’s really not the case with Cross, nor is it his objective. In fact, he portrays himself about as neutral as it comes while broadcasting games for the SEC Network, no matter which team he’s calling a game for. But Cross realizes the most important factor when openly admitting you root for a particular team: He knows you have to be critical when it’s necessary. 

“I feel like the biggest thing in all of this is honesty,” said Cross. “If you’re honest with your listeners, whether it’s after a great win or a heartbreaking loss, you just have to shoot people straight. That’s where the credibility comes from.

“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that. I think people expect honesty and they don’t want someone who is constantly taking shots at their team, because that gets old as well.”

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Booker agrees. 

“One thing I take very seriously, if something is wrong, I’m not going to sit in the radio booth and say, oh, things are fine and we’re going to get better,” Booker said. “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong and what should be fixed without a fear of upsetting someone. But at the end of the day, my audience knows I identify as someone with a rooting interest and I thoroughly enjoy that.”

So is acceptable to openly root for the team you talk about every day on the air? Well, if that’s who you are as a fan, then absolutely. But as Cross and Booker said, you also have to be willing to be critical when need be. At the end of the day, it’s all about honesty with your listener. Be your true self and say what you think. 

“We are major parts of people’s daily routine,” said Booker. “For someone driving a car, whether it be for 10 minutes or 30 minutes every single morning, I think they far more identify with someone that’s a fan of the same program. We’re told this at the station a lot, we have listeners that look at us like friends. They think you’re their buddy and for all practical purposes, they are. You spend every morning with them and they’re not nearly going to be as connected or enjoy listening to someone if all I do is criticize this and criticize that. They want to connect with me and feel like they can have a beer with me and talk about the Bulldogs.”

But what if you’re labeled the ‘Ole Miss guy’ on the air in Mississippi? Though Cross isn’t viewed by all Mississippi State fans as that, his listeners that are MSU fans, still likely know where his loyalties lie. That can make for an interesting relationship when the two fan bases are evenly split through the market. 

“The fascinating thing with me and Mississippi State fans, is that forever I was just the Ole Miss guy,” said Cross. “But because of the television work that I’ve done, even a bunch of Mississippi State games, there’s some that will never see or hear anything but, oh, Richard, he’s an Ole Miss guy and I don’t give a damn what he says. But I think most people have noticed how I approach doing TV broadcasts. I do a Mississippi State game the same way I do a Tennessee or Ole Miss game, or whoever I’m calling. I think I’ve developed some credibility along the way as a result of that. Hopefully that’s carried over to the radio side.”

Doing radio in Athens, Booker doesn’t have to compete with two fan bases. It’s all UGA, all the time. When the vast majority, if not all, of your listeners have the same rooting interest as you, it makes being open with your fandom on the air a whole lot easier. 

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But what if another station outside the market wanted to hire him? Say, Atlanta? Would he totally change his on-air persona? 

“If I were in a bigger market, especially in Atlanta, yeah I would be able to be the exact same person,” said Booker.  “If anything, I would lay out both sides on the table a little bit more. I would probably be a little bit more, hey, this is good, but this could also be the same thing. All of a sudden your audience isn’t going to be 90% your fandom, your audience will be split into a lot more different fan bases. It would be a little bit more difficult, but at the end of the day, I would be who I am.”

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Tyler McComas: Doing radio in Athens, do you feel like you have to be a guy that openly roots for UGA on the air? 

Logan Booker: No, not 100 percent. I’ll use one of our afternoon show hosts as an example. He’s from Miami and went to the University of Miami. He’s an outspoken Miami fan. He’s not over the top, like “I’m going to rub it in your face, Go Hurricanes and the Dawgs suck”. I think he understands that in order to connect to your listenership he needs to talk about the Dawgs as if it was his wake up, check the news, find out what’s happening with Georgia, and, oh, Miami is just something I do on the side. Whether that’s true or not I think when you’re in a small market, especially a college town, where you know 90 percent of your listenership either graduated from that university or even goes to that university, or employed at university, they have a major rooting interest in the local team. But if you’re not an outspoken fan I think it’s important to make sure you legitimately care about what’s going on with that team. Not necessarily in a blindly positive way but it has to be an interest of yours.

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TM: You did something interesting with a poll a while back to gauge how fans view media. 

LB: I put up a poll back when I was trying to become a beat writer and kind of get that fandom out of me, asking my Twitter following, hey, do you think that beat writers are fans of the program? Overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, were absolutely, the beat writer is supposed to be a fan of the program.

They don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everyone is from the state or grew up loving the team. We have a couple guys in our market that are Maryland grads. But the fans don’t get that and that’s actually a testament to the good job those guys are doing on the beat.

TM: In general, is it ok for a host to root for the team he talks about every day? 

Richard Cross: I think it was Scott Van Pelt that famously said, “Everybody’s from somewhere” Everyone that’s in this business are fans of some teams. If you’re in the sports talk radio business you’re a fan of sports, right? You like it, or at least I hope you like it. Odds are you grew up watching or following some team.

I’m coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, because I host a sports radio show and I work with the Ole Miss Radio Network but I also work with ESPN and the SEC Network. They’re the same skill set, for the most part, it’s kind of different in terms of how I treat each broadcast. But I try not to be over-the-top ever from hosting a sports talk show in a state like Mississippi where you have Ole Miss and Mississippi State, you have to be fair to both sides. I graduated from Ole Miss and I don’t try to hide the fact I want to see them do well. But I feel like the biggest thing in all this is honesty. 

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TM: Just be genuine, right? Don’t force or fake it to your audience. 

RC: Sure, absolutely. I never approach it on the radio side from the standpoint of, let’s talk about the Ole Miss game because I love Ole Miss. It’s not the approach should I go with. Let’s look at all the different angles and point out all the stuff that’s good, but also the things were bad. And I try to do the same thing with Mississippi State. But I’m just not a rah-rah guy. I never have been.

BSM Writers

The Chiefs & Eagles Have Super Bowl Game Plans, How About You?

“The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either.”

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When it comes to preparation, I usually hold off. I’m a procrastinator’s procrastinator. It sounds better if I say; “I’m driven by deadlines,” but the truth is, I just generally put things off until they absolutely have to be checked off the list. If your goal as a producer is to have a great post-Super Bowl show, don’t be me, you best start working now.

There are many things that complicate booking guests for a Super Bowl reaction show. The obvious is that you have no idea who is winning the game. But, beyond that, you have no way of predicting what will be the biggest story coming out of the game. It could be anything from overtime to a blowout, halftime show debacle, officiating blunder, or even a surprise retirement announcement.

With that in mind, there are some strategies for targeting guests. With these, though, working ahead is paramount. Most anyone that is going to have enough insight to improve your show will be slammed in the hours following the end of the game.

Strategy 1: The Game Participant

This is a big risk, big reward strategy. It is also one that is only available to a select group of shows. If your show is nationally syndicated, in a very large market, or home market for one of the teams, you have a shot here. If not, the odds are not in your favor. The team’s media departments are as busy as anyone during a Super Bowl run. They aren’t likely to help a show they’ve never dealt with during that whirlwind of action.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked as the media relations director for a mid-major basketball team that sprung a huge round two upset and advanced to the Sweet 16. Needless to say, he was swamped overnight with interview requests for his coach. He told me every station led with “ESPN Radio” then mumbled the part about being in Puyallup, Washington. It never hurts to ask, but understand it is a long shot.

Strategy Two: Local Player Not In The Game

This can be a really solid idea for both previewing the Super Bowl and the Monday after the game. If you are in a local NFL market, or if a local college or high school star is in the NFL, consider him as an analyst. Who better knows what happens in an NFL game than an NFL player? Bonus points if he has been a Super Bowl participant in the past.

Don’t underestimate how many NFL players are thinking about life after football. One of the dozens of roles as NFL analyst at a major network is an excellent retirement plan. You don’t have to have a Hall of Fame jacket for those gigs, but you do need to be good on air. You might be surprised by how many players will agree to an interview with that in mind.

Strategy Three: The Trusted Analyst

Every network has all their biggest voices either In Phoenix or in the studio for the game. These are people that know the interview game and have plenty of experience. This strategy comes with some obvious hurdles; it turns out the networks paying the analysts to be on site keep them rather busy. While they might have been happy to join your show the Monday after Week Three, this is a different animal.

One other factor you should consider in this strategy is the fact that Sky Harbor airport will be one of the busiest in the world Monday morning. Many of the analysts will be scrambling home to start their off season as well. If your analyst is on the move, travel delays can wreck your whole plan.

Strategy Four: The Pop Culture Angle

Oftentimes the biggest talking point coming out of the game is one of the things happening outside the actual play on the field. If you watch Super Bowl Twitter, the biggest traffic moments are people joking about a slow starting Star Spangled Banner “hitting the over” or how bad the halftime show is. Regardless of the act, it has become the default position that the halftime show is awful, even when we all think they are pretty good. 50 Cent hanging upside down will forever be a meme.

Commercials are going to be a massive talking point after a game, especially if the game doesn’t quite deliver. Who is the voice that can talk to your audience about everything from Rihanna to a Taco Bell commercial? There is the inherent risk of alienating the “talk more sports” guy with this type of guest so, as you should with any guest, make certain they are entertaining.

The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either. Communication between hosts and producers is critical. Have a plan, work ahead and be on the same page.

Most of all, try to enjoy the game – and take the Chiefs and the points.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Burying ‘Outside the Lines’ Shows Little Regard for Respected Brand

Continuing to use the ‘OTL’ brand is likely a nod to the great work of Bob Ley, Ryan Smith, and Jeremy Schaap.

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With the end of college football season and the Super Bowl marking the conclusion of the NFL season, ESPN has air time to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the next six months. In past years, that opened up a window for the network to bring back its prestige news magazine program, Outside the Lines.

However, late last week, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported that ESPN has decided not to bring back the standalone OTL show. The program most recently aired Saturday mornings during football’s offseason, typically from mid-February through August. That timeslot essentially buried a show that was once an important part of ESPN’s Sunday morning programming.

Outside the Lines provided substantive, in-depth sports features, interviews, and discussions on Sunday mornings, when viewers were conditioned to expect important dialogue and commentary with weekly public affairs programs and political talk shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation.

Originally anchored by Bob Ley, OTL was a departure from the highlights, analysis, and quips that made up most of the network’s programming. This was ESPN doing journalism with a capital “J,” reporting and investigating longer-form stories on pertinent issues in sports, usually off the field, and examining trends that developed through a news cycle.

Eventually, the number of stories the OTL staff worked on — and presumably, the appetite for such content from ESPN viewers — necessitated expanding the show to a daily schedule airing in mid-afternoons. After Ley retired in 2019, Ryan Smith and Jeremy Schaap hosted the show and continued its deeper look into topical sports stories.

Producing for a daily schedule probably spread the show too thin, however. Finding important stories that warranted the stronger coverage promised by the OTL brand became difficult, forcing the show to include panel discussions that resembled the sort of debate programming seen throughout the day on ESPN. As a result, OTL content was whittled down and integrated into the noon edition of SportsCenter each day.

OTL also suffered amid the inherent conflict at ESPN from having a news-gathering, journalistic operation while entering partnerships with the sports leagues it was covering. Hard-hitting reports on domestic violence issues in the NFL, particularly in light of the Ray Rice assault scandal, and player safety concerns with the rise in traumatic brain injuries gave the network’s producers and reporters credibility. But such stories also rankled league officials and team owners who sought more positive promotion for their sport.

ESPN would surely balk at the idea that it throttled back on in-depth reporting and scrutinization. But the network’s relationship with the NFL is obviously better than it once was, best demonstrated by getting better match-ups on the Monday Night Football schedule, Wild Card playoff games, and Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN/ABC in 2027 and 2031. Meanwhile, Outside the Lines has been effectively buried among ESPN programming.

Yet ratings ultimately decide what stays on a broadcast schedule and what doesn’t. And OTL hasn’t drawn a good number of viewers in quite some time. Some of that is likely influenced by an early Saturday morning timeslot that drew an average audience of 303,000. But SportsCenter AM attracts 572,000 viewers in the same timeslot, so it’s apparent that fans want quicker, breezier content as they begin the weekend.

Outside the Lines simply may not stand apart in the current sports media landscape, either. Longer-form storytelling and reporting are often found in documentaries now, and we’re living in the golden age of sports nonfiction films. That includes ESPN’s own documentary brands E:60, 30 For 30, and ESPN Films. (E:60, in particular, seems to have replaced news magazine programming or special reports, which were once reserved for monthly specials early in OTL‘s life, at ESPN.)

Shuttering the Saturday OTL fortunately won’t result in anyone losing a job. According to SBJ‘s Ourand, some staffers will be reassigned to other studio programs. And others will continue to work on OTL-branded content that runs on SportsCenter throughout the day, not just at noon, under the “OTL on SC” banner. Additionally, OTL content will run on ESPN’s digital platforms such as the network’s YouTube channel. So the show will go on… sort of.

ESPN obviously values the OTL brand and realizes that it carries respect among fans and media. (The show also penetrated pop culture enough to warrant a parody on Saturday Night Live.) Otherwise, the network might shelve the title entirely. Yet perhaps that’s really a nod to the work of Ley, an ESPN institution, and Schaap, one of the network’s best reporters (with ties to sports media royalty in Dick Schaap).

That may be Outside the Lines‘ true legacy. Ley created a brand (continued by Smith and Schaap) taken seriously enough that viewers knew it meant bolder sports journalism unafraid to explore stories and questions that warranted such attention. The OTL name carries enough weight that ESPN can’t bear to get rid of it entirely, even if it doesn’t hold the place at the network that it once did.

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BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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