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The Virtual NFL Draft: Hope, Pandemic Porn, No Glitches

“Guest columnist Jay Mariotti says that after initially balking at the NFL deciding to hold its annual draft, he now cedes how the three-day affair is serving a purpose or two.”

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“Hope,’’ Roger Goodell said.

“Hope,’’ Trey Wingo said.

“Hope,’’ Peyton Manning said.

If hope were dope, and the countless mentions of it during the NFL’s first virtual draft could be channeled into medicine, we actually might have a cure for the coronavirus. It was immediately clear on Thursday night’s broadcasts that the league, pilloried here and beyond for insensitively continuing business amid a pandemic, wouldn’t begin choosing athletic talent until the real heroes were honored. As Harry Connick Jr. performed the national anthem from his home piano, a montage of images — doctors, nurses, first responders, police officers, firefighters — flashed across the ABC, ESPN and NFL Network feeds.

Well done.

A proper, necessary tone was established. The league wanted a message to resonate, firmly, that it understands its place amid our global health horror, making sure its primary motive — maintaining a 2020 continuum while hoping not to lose billions if next season is canceled — was a subdued blip in the ongoing carnage. Goodell could least afford to botch this fragile, historical moment after all the public storms that made him something of an American pariah — the concussion crisis, his handling of player conduct problems, the Colin Kaepernick protests. His league needed to do much, much better at a time when a country’s people are desperate for steady leadership.

The NFL succeeded. And so did Bristol, which somehow avoided the high potential for technological folly and unwatchable TV with a presentation free of major glitches, unless we’re counting a robotic Goodell bumbling a few times in a home basement out of “Wayne’s World.’’ A bunch of football men showed up, turned on their digital tools, showed off their kids, made their selections as draftees conveyed their appreciation, then returned to quarantine life with the rest of us. Joe Burrow is heading to Cincinnati, where even the Bengals couldn’t bungle the obvious. Tua Tagovailoa, broken body and all, is off to Miami, leaving Justin Herbert for the Los Angeles Chargers. Tampa Bay, with general manager Jason Licht high-fiving his children in his home office, snagged an offensive lineman to protect Tom Brady as he throws to Rob Gronkowski. (Did I just write that sentence?). The Raiders drafted playmaker Henry Ruggs III, who showed up in a bathrobe that works perfectly in Las Vegas, which also gets the 2022 draft, though Goodell announced it as the 2020 draft. Bill Belichick did not take a quarterback in Round One, but Green Bay did in Jordan Love, which might not inspire love from Aaron Rodgers. Adam Schefter managed some appearances, and Mel Kiper’s hair is still Mel Kiper’s hair in a pandemic.

“We will get through this together,’’ the commissioner told America, “and when we do, we will be here.’’

But, honestly, when on God’s Earth will that be?

With Scott Van Pelt as Mister Rogers, the bleeding American sports industry insists on trying to speak itself back into existence. Other than the NFL tribute, little mention is made inside this hermetically sealed playpen that the world is in unprecedented upheaval — the death toll continues to soar, stay-at-home protests could turn violent, states are playing Russian Roulette with a rush to reopen, and a second and more crippling coronavirus wave could arrive in, say, September, the fantasy date for the NFL and other leagues and events to resume. Or, as Mike Francesa calls it, “Sports Shangri-La.’’

Our games will be back soon!

Until, of course, they aren’t.

In this alternative universe, the draft carried on as an act of resilience, escapism, crisis guidance and primal-scream therapy. After initially balking at the Beavis-meets-Butthead audacity of such an exercise, I now cede how the three-day affair is serving a purpose or two. Yes, it temporarily soothes the souls of alienated humans who can’t function without sports, restless folks who’ve turned “The Last Dance’’ rehash of a 22-year-old NBA tragicomedy into some modern cinematic version of “The Godfather.’’ I get it: Fans and gamblers are freaking about the potential long-term absence of sports, just as sports media professionals are petrified that a virus-paralyzed world won’t need sports media. So even without the massive crowds, rowdy scene and on-stage dap bumps between Goodell and the chosen ones, the first (and hopefully last) remote draft quaiifies as pandemic porn.

But more than that, the NFL is striving to show America how to adapt and survive through unprecedented challenges. Defiantly, the league joined hands with its broadcast partners and dared to trudge through an IT jungle, blind-leaping into a hazy, frightening, post-Covid-19 future. Goodell pivoted to dabble in what will be a complex transformation of the U.S. workplace. To that end, the league and the broadcast production team — coming live from Bristol, not from the Vegas fountains of the Bellagio Hotel — risked a disastrous fallout from technical glitches and Zoom-bombing.

Bloopers! Cue the NFL Films folly music.

Admit it: We were hoping for some disarray, just to laugh a little. But other than a lengthy delayed reaction between Washington’s pick of Chase Young and the celebration of Young and his family, the broadcast proceeded without any discombobulation, a miracle given the complex circumstances. Guided by ESPN veteran Seth Markman, the production pulled off memorable scenes: Jerry Jones, rubbing in his wealth while embalmed in his $250 million yacht, in happy landline conversation with new Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy before the pick of CeeDee Lamb, a receiver to help Dak Prescott; Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has achieved little in the league, sprawled in a glass palace from the pages of Architectural Digest, while Belichick, the coaching G.O.A.T., drafts alone from an ordinary kitchen. And I hope none of the gigantic moose heads on the wall of Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings coach, ever fall as he walks past. Dave Gettleman, the Giants’ embattled GM, wore a mask while sitting alone at home. Goodell could be forgiven for being a bit loopy in his suburban New York home, talking to fans on a wall screen as if they were long, lost friends and starting the night with a joyful embrace of piped-in boobirds. “Wow, even the virtual boos are good,’’ he said. But if that’s our only gripe, damned if this wasn’t a triumph of broadcasting perseverance.

The entire show depended on the functionality of 180 video feeds wired into players, general managers, coaches and TV personnel in self-quarantine. The league mailed do-it-yourself camera kits to 58 top prospects to install at home, with detailed instructions and diagrams, and asked them to maintain social-distancing. Meanwhile, the 32 teams, banned from working facilities, replaced the usual packed war rooms with elaborate video-conferencing from the homes of key decision-makers. Hey, what could go wrong?

Can you say, spotty wi-fi? Dogs barking, babies crying, wives and children misplacing magnets on the kitchen draft board? Doorbells ringing with Amazon packages and pizza deliveries? Good thing “Tagovailoa’’ couldn’t be confused with “Herbert’’ over the cellphone … or could it? Days earlier, the league conducted a mock draft to address glitches and immediately encountered a malfunction with the first pick. Some league executives, ignoring Goodell’s edict to avoid any criticism of the newfangled draft, described the practice session as “chaos.’’ Think of the possibilities: Gamblers, reduced to Russian ping-pong matches to scratch their wagering itches, betting the over-under on how many test patterns ESPN posted. The Detroit Lions, concerned about a Detroit Lions kind of screwup, positioned their IT director inside a Winnebago outside general manager Bob Quinn’s home. Other GMs had walls ripped out of living areas. Chicago Bears fans, forever numb that Mitch Trubisky was drafted over Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, were afraid not only about GM Ryan Pace but his wife, who unplugged one of his seven computer monitors while vacuuming earlier this week. (I know a Bears fan who thinks Mrs. Pace should make the picks).

And, hmmmm, what about the potential for hacking? Didn’t every team have to keep an eye on Belichick’s IT people?

But the NFL and ESPN did install a backup system, allowing an urgent audible to FaceTime if necessary. And teams invested in stronger wi-fi and cellphone connections while adding computers, video monitors and landlines. And somehow, it worked without ESPN having to flip fast to “the 46th annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Competition,’’ ABC switching to “Kids Say The Darndest Things’’ and the NFL Network auto-changing to “A Football Life.’’ Add the element of charity, with the draft serving as a virtual fundraiser for several causes, and, inexplicably, it came together. No snafus.

Hope.

The adrenaline rush of sports was back, sure to be reflected by the same massive ratings spikes generated last weekend by ESPN’s Michael Jordan-approved documentary series. And it will lead the industry’s wishful thinkers to assume the rest of the parade is around the corner, NBA and MLB and all the rest, ready to kickstart a sports revenue machine that annually produces more than $75 billion in the U.S. They don’t realize, sadly, that the streets will be as barren as before.

This is what happens when league owners and network executives who’ve lived kingpin lives for so long, accustomed to getting their way, suddenly are losing fortunes and seeing empires teeter. They join lost fans in pretending all will be fine when, surely by now, they realize they’re helpless and at the cruel mercy of a ghost until — all together now — herd immunity is achieved and/or a legitimate vaccine is developed, approved and mass-distributed, perhaps in 2021. Jones can’t power-play Covid-19. Mark Cuban can’t shout it down. Bob Kraft can’t massage it. Jerry Reinsdorf can’t dismantle it the way he wrecking-balled the Jordan dynasty. And President Trump, whose minimizing of the pandemic expands to pushing the sports envelope prematurely, can’t do a thing about his nighttime hardship: “… watching baseball games that are 14 years old.’’ As a New York Times headline thumped this week, “The Coronavirus Doesn’t Care When Sports Come Back.’’ They can brainstorm all they want about salvaging schedules within a Bio-dome culture, or empty stadiums. As long as the lives of athletes and their loved ones are at risk, and an entire season would end with one positive test among hundreds inside such a bubble, sports should be shut down. And why would anyone devote scarce resources and supplies to sports initiatives when they are desperately needed by hospitals and front liners?

“There’s going to be a myriad of factors you have to evaluate, and facts you have to know, even before you could contemplate something like a sequester or a quarantined group,” warned DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association. “We all want to be in a position to make sure we’re not doing anything for the sake of football that would unnecessarily endanger our greater community.”

With time on his hands, Smith found a book that is recommended reading for all: “The Great Influenza,’’ about the 1918-19 flu pandemic. “There was a lull in the outbreak and people thought it meant that it had somehow miraculously disappeared,’’ he said. “They only later found out that the virus mutated, that it came back in much stronger form.’’

It should surprise no one that sports, built on fairy tales, continues to float above the pandemic like a pipe dream. Gronk abandons retirement, wrestling, partying and hemp to join Brady in Tampa, another gut blow to the Patriot Way and another reason to miss the NFL if/when it doesn’t return until 2021. The Boston Red Sox are merely wrist-slapped for their role in baseball’s electronic sign-stealing scandal, more a byproduct of cronyism — owners John Henry and Tom Werner are protected in the sport’s inner sanctum, unlike Houston owner Jim Crane — than any assurance the Red Sox weren’t as crooked as the Astros. MLB continues to advance the delusion of squeezing in the 2020 season for “America’s sake,’’ though most of America no longer watches baseball on TV and an Orioles-Royals game sounds worse than actually contracting the virus. While NBA commissioner Adam Silver begins to express pessimism about resuming a season, the NHL skates on with July possibilities. Golf will resume in June without galleries — until a player tests positive because, uh, flights, hotels and rental cars provide virus obstacles. Will Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson be able to maintain social distance from Brady and Manning in their celebrity golf match? If so, such a TV event works, especially when charitable. I’m not so sure about dirt-track racing in South Dakota, a state without large-gatherings restrictions, where ticket sales are capped at 700 for an event this weekend. Aren’t we doing well with virtual NASCAR, where no one dies in the wrecks?

As a whole, sports continues to prioritize lost billions over common sense without asking athletes what they think; they’re the ones expected to assume health risks and abandon families. Without stadium revenues, leagues will ask players to accept lower salaries when, in fairness, the players deserve raises if they agree to such a fraught undertaking. Thus, aren’t we looking at labor standoffs, particularly in baseball, a troubled and scandal-ridden sport before the pandemic? And how greedy and petty do MLB owners look in refusing to issue refunds for “postponed’’ March and April dates, ignoring that almost 30 million Americans are unemployed?

But at least the NFL delivered an actual sports event in real time, floating optimism that includes the May release of the 2020 schedule … for a season unlikely to be played. “It’s hope for our fans, hope for our teams,’’ Goodell said. “It’s hope for our players, for these young men who are about to start their careers as prospects and players in the NFL. That’s what this is all about, and I think we need those diversions. I think we’ll be able to do that for three days, and then we’ll focus on the future immediately after.’’

There is no foreseeable future for sports. All you need to know is that ESPN analyst Todd McShay, set to appear as a draft-night panelist, couldn’t make the gig because he’s recovering from coronavirus. It isn’t overstating matters that the pandemic could lead to World War III. But for one night, a septuagenarian bro who moonlights as U.S. president could think life is returning to normal, when, as most know, normal is at the morgue with 200,000 bodies.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’

BSM Writers

5 Sports TV Minds Explain Why We Love The Manningcast

“Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”

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Here at Barrett Sports Media, we clearly have Manningcast fever. And look, we aren’t the only news outlet covering the media industry that has mined Peyton and Eli Manning for all the content we can. We have looked at the show from a broadcaster’s perspective. We have looked at it from a fan’s perspective. We have gawked at the ratings growth. We have asked how fair this whole endeavor is to Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick.

One thing we have not done yet is ask accomplished television professionals for their thoughts. Why has this broadcast, which can be hard to follow at times, captured the imagination of football fans? How has it gone from something we were unsure about to truly must-see TV for the sports audience?

Peyton Manning takes hilarious shot at New England Patriots during 'Monday  Night Football'
Courtesy: ESPN

I asked five TV pro’s what it is that they see when they watch Peyton, Eli and their cavalcade of guests. Is the Manningcast connecting with hardcore football fans that crave the Xs and Os or is it connecting with more casual fans that enjoy the comedy of Peyton wearing a helmet three sizes too small and Eli shooting the camera the double bird? This is wildly different from a traditional TV booth.

Allan Flowers is a coordinating producer for NFL Network. He’s spent three decades in the industry, and works for a network that lives and breathes football 24/7. Perhaps even more importantly, Allan has the benefit of working on one of the most well received shows in recent memory, one that football fans can’t get enough of, NFL Redzone.

I wanted to pick his brain on traditional TV booths. When the Manningcast first premiered, so many people wanted to tie it to a traditional broadcast and figure out what it means for the future. It raised questions about ESPN’s longterm plans for Peyton Manning, Monday Night Football, and the pros and cons connected to offering two versions of the same game on different channels.

“I can definitely see Peyton in a traditional booth. He is the one constantly talking football on the ‘Manningcast’. Eli mixes football with jabs at his older brother,” Flowers told me when I asked if what he has seen through the first three weeks makes him think that the brothers could be a future fit in a more traditional broadcast booth. “I think the traditional broadcast needs to change anyway. It’s the same formulaic booth that we have seen for decades. That’s why there is an appetite for something like this. As opportunities continue to open for more diverse people (e.g. younger analysts, female analysts, female and black play by play announcers), I think you will see tone of the traditional broadcast booth change regardless. ABC tried comedian Dennis Miller in the booth decades ago. I would not be surprised to see something like that happen again in the future, only if that person is relatable and appears to know football. As for what Eli & Peyton are doing, I think it’s great. They have a connection which is paramount to a great booth. There is a rawness to it that appears fresh (for now). I think their broadcast is still evolving. I’ve noticed some small changes each week. The guests have been great. Nothing but A list people. Why they are taking a break until Week 7 seems odd, but it’s an interesting watch.”

I spoke with a TV executive with experience at multiple networks that wished to remain anonymous. He told me that the Manningcast is the “perfect combination of personality and authority.”

He also said that there is no sense in thinking about Peyton and Eli’s futures as broadcasters. The deal between ESPN and Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, which produces the broadcast, isn’t about securing Peyton Manning to be the future analyst on the traditional Monday Night Football broadcast.

Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN. They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations. To that end, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro is smart enough to stay out of the way. He invested in Omaha Productions and is going to let the content it provides grow the way Peyton Manning wants it to.

Patrick Crakes is a former Vice President at FOX Sports and InVivo Media Group. He now runs Crakes Media Consulting. He isn’t sure that ESPN is entirely hands off. Peyton and Eli Manning are important enough that the network wants to keep them happy, but they are also smart enough to know the goal is to put on the best show possible.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that both Peyton and Eli are allowing ESPN to produce them at a very high level. This show clearly has a run-down, producers and directors are speaking live to both of them and the show evolves on-air every week in real time. Yes, it’s an in-motion experiment but it’s working because the production team at ESPN is being allowed to create a live studio show, something ESPN does very very well.”

Flowers agrees. He can’t see ESPN letting the Mannings fly blind. In fact, he had some thoughts on what kind of coaching he would give the brothers to improve on what we have already seen.

“Neither of them know when a commercial timeout is coming, which seems odd since they played the game for so long. It’s very awkward when they have a guest and they ask them to tell a story right before a punt. Then they have to cut the guest off and get to the break. I would also engage the guests in more of their football talk. If it’s a player, see if they all see the same thing. What defense would you call here. If it’s not a player, teach the guest what Peyton/Eli is seeing. There are times when the guest doesn’t know what to do, which seems uncomfortable. It was great when they had LeBron James guess the next play and he was right. More of that will make the booth connectivity better. I think they have the ability to telestrate their own plays. If not, they should. I’m also curious if the button-down collared shirt are the only shirts they own.”

Logan Swaim is the Head of Content for Colin Cowherd’s The Volume podcast network. Prior to diving into the world of audio and social video, Swaim spent decades in TV including serving as an Executive Producer for Good Morning Football on the NFL Network, and also with DAZN, and NBC Sports. Swaim told me that at it’s core, the Manningcast isn’t an original idea. It’s the next evolution in megacasts and second screens. It just happens to be considerably better than anything that has come before it in that realm.

“They have the cheat code with Peyton and Eli – two likable, entertaining, and authentic personalities. But they’ve smartly created a show where all the bells and whistles are made only to accentuate what makes the talent interesting. The pre-planned segments are all intended to make fun of the hosts, like Peyton reading a list of all the stuff they messed up last week. It feels partly like watching a game at a bar and partly like Inside the NBA.”

Eli Manning Hilariously Tried To Do Dak Prescott's Hip-Thrust During Manning -Cast on MNF (VIDEO) | Total Pro Sports
Courtesy: ESPN

Eric Weinberger is a former sports media executive and executive producer at the NFL Network now running his own company. He described the Manningcast to me as “part Ted Lasso, part Beavis & Butthead“. I love a good Beavis and Butthead reference, so I asked him to explain a little more. He said “the broadcast comes with some rough edges that make it more charming,” although he did have additional suggestions of what he might add.

“You want it to feel ‘clunky,’ seem less polished. That is what is appealing about this production.” Weinberger told me. “Maybe I would try a little local radio game play-by-play every once in a while to break up the Mannings ever present voices and give them a breather.”

We have to wait three weeks for another Manningcast. The brothers will not return until Week 7, when the Saints play in Seattle. That has to be a bummer for ESPN executives, who have watched the audience for Peyton and Eli grow each of the three weeks it has been on air, even when games seem irrelevant. I asked that TV executive that didn’t want to be identified what he would do to keep the momentum going both on TV and on social media.

He said nothing was off the table. You have Peyton and Eli film vignettes that can be used to lead into the traditional ESPN broadcast, you have them breakdown a series or play for SportsCenter, and anything else you can think of. Right now, you put as much of the Manning’s as you can on TV.

“Pay them more money and have them do more games,” he said was the lesson for the next contract.

Any good idea will have its imitators. Like every major pro sport, television is a copycat league. Allan Flowers had a series of suggestions for what he could see this spawning in terms of alternate broadcasts. He suggested the tight end Zach Ertz and his wife Julie, a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, even Charles Barkley and Phil Mickelson.

Weinberger also expects to see copycats. He just doesn’t expect them to be as good as the Manningcast.

“Secondary screen viewing can work for all sports. Football really lends itself to multiple opportunities, as there are so many complexities with specialty positions and moving parts. The dynamic the two brothers have though is unique and special, always has been.”

Swaim says at the end of the day, what makes the Manningcast special is the broad appeal. There is no right answer to “who is the target audience?” and that means everyone can find something to like about it.

“It seems like it’s found a way to appeal to two different audiences – hardcore football fans and the social media audience. There is plenty of ‘ball’ talk where they nerd out and talk about Football Film Room terms. And then there are hilarious conversations where Gronk is talking about his dog and McAfee is telling amazing stories about roulette. They have pulled off the delicate balance of serving two distinct audiences.”

Remember the 2000 Presidential Election? There were polls leading up to November that said asked people that planned to vote for George W. Bush how they arrived at their decision. A significant number of those that responded said that Al Gore seemed more qualified to be President of the United States, but Bush was more relatable – the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.

Letters: Responding to Sen. Lieberman on 2000 and 2020 - WSJ
Courtesy: Gary Hershorn/Rueters

Crakes says the same logic can be used to explain the mass appeal of the Manningcast. Sure Peyton and Eli are smart, but it is their appeal as people, as characters, that draw audiences looking for different things out of an NFL broadcast.

“They don’t take themselves seriously and their genuine competitive love for the sport of football comes through via the dynamic of two brothers who respect and like each other. It’s for pretty much the entire audience. Everyone would like to have a beer and watch the game with them. That’s the key ingredinent.”

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BSM Writers

Chris Carlin Doesn’t Want Any Caller To Be That Guy

” There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.”

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ESPN Images

We all know those sports radio callers – someone with a hot take that makes you want to flip the dial even for a split second. However, they do have the tendency to make us laugh every once-in-a-while. In his new series on Tik Tok called Sports Radio Callers: Don’t Be That Guy, ESPN Radio New York host and Rutgers football play-by-play broadcaster, Chris Carlin, tends to make light of some of the calls he receives on a daily basis.

He wants you to know that he isn’t making fun of anyone in particular. He has been in the business long enough to have plenty of inspiration to draw from.

It is very clear that Carlin values his listeners and while he may have a little fun with some calls, he is never afraid to make fun of himself and that is what makes any show he does an entertaining listen. Of course, we could also all probably relate to maybe being one of those callers when we started out calling into shows too, which he wasn’t shy about reliving when we spoke last week.

Ricky Keeler: Where did you come up with the idea to do these Tik Tok videos? Was there a particular call on your show that led to this? 

Chris Carlin: I wouldn’t say there was a particular call. There have been plenty over the years.  There is a genre of calls. It’s not just about the host, but it’s about the listener as well. There are some calls that you get that don’t enrich the show and sometimes, it’s more fun to kind of make fun of it a little bit and try to entertain that way. It’s not a knock on the people personally.

The way I look at it is nobody makes more fun of themselves than me. It’s just some types of calls are ones that I just think are entertaining in a not so informative way. 

I got the idea from watching a guy on Tik Tok named Scott Seiss, who is a stand-up comedian. He apparently used to work at IKEA and he talked about all the complaints of people at IKEA in that same way. He’d say what the complaint of the person is and then say his response in a very straightforward funny way and using that same kind of music. It just kind of struck me when I heard that, yeah, I can do that for sports radio callers, there’s no doubt.

RK: Is there a particular call or caller that the minute you hear them, you just know that’s a perfect Tik Tok video? 

CC: I wouldn’t say that. For instance, I did one where the caller is going to call up and say, it’s the same old Jets. You know, it’s lazy and it’s kind of like really? Where it came to I get it, you’ve been through all the pain in the world. We all understand. But, it is silly to come out and say something like that, but you know it’s going to come.

I started jotting down ideas a few weeks ago, putting them on Tik Tok about a month ago. I just completely made up names, so there’s not a direct one. So, it’d be like “Is it the same old Jets or is it the same old Tony from Freehold? It feels like you called and said the same thing before because you did last week. Here’s an idea for your next phone call. Have a point.”

Callers know, listeners know when they hear a call or make a point like that, we’re all rolling our eyes and it’s okay, listen, it’s part of the gig. It’s what you sign up for when you dial the phone that if you don’t bring a good, informed take or you don’t want to go after something I said, you could be fodder for the show. This was just something that I did separately to have some fun.

I actually had a caller bring it up to me like should you really be doing that? It is not a knock on our listeners at all. What it is is just kind of a parody and at the same time, nobody makes more fun of themselves than me.

RK: How would you describe to someone not from New York, what New York sports radio callers are like? 

CC: I think New York sports radio callers are very similar to callers all over the country. In every town, sports radio callers kind of have a knock against them and I think it’s unfair. As much as we are seen, not just callers, but hosts, like you just take the laziest take and you just do all that stuff. I think the majority of callers and the majority of hosts that are really bringing up good points and trying to illuminate in addition to bringing some heat to it. I think every market has their funny callers, their guys that you know what you’re going to get when they call.

RK: What has the reaction to this series been like from other people in the business? Are people able to enjoy it or do you hear feedback that you’re being too mean? 

CC: It’s been pretty positive because everybody knows who I am. People kind of know my personality and my personality is yeah, I’m going to deliver you some good takes and stuff like that, but I’m also not going to act like we’re splitting the atom here. It’s not a personal attack in any way. It’s just kind of a generic piece of advice. That’s why I titled it Don’t Be That Guy.

There are better ways to spend your time waiting on hold. When I would produce for Mike [Francesa] and Chris [“Mad Dog” Russo], I’d get callers who would call up and say “I want to talk about the Mets.” Okay, what do you want to say? “I think they’re pretty good.” Yeah, let me get you right on. It’s that kind of thing. The reaction I’ve gotten, it hasn’t been executives or anything, it’s mostly been colleagues and it’s all very much, they’re entertained by it. Some sports radio hosts are like thank god, somebody’s doing this, but more than anything, it’s just a tongue in cheek thing.

RK: The Yankees, Mets, Giants, and Jets are all struggling. In these situations, are the more ridiculous calls likely to happen or do these people always exist?

CC: They always exist. There are some weeks like this week if you’re calling up and saying Zach Wilson is not the answer, I’m going to hang up on you pretty quickly. That’s what this week has got the potential for. I’m pretty open-minded to a lot of takes, but it’s the takes that callers call up with that are not well-reasoned. Just too much of an emotional reaction right out of the gate that has actually nothing behind it. 

RK: Do you prefer to do these types of shows when all the teams are winning or does it give you more content when all the teams are not playing well? 

CC: It’s always better for business in general when teams are good. As far as this kind of content, I could do this year round. I just frankly haven’t had enough time. I’ve been working a lot of late hours recently and I just haven’t had enough time to do more of them. I’m going to try, but I also am very cognizant of I don’t want callers to think that I’m not evaluating their inputs to the show because there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. It’s just more of let’s not take ourselves too seriously here.

RK: If you could go back to a younger version of yourself, were you one of those callers? 

CC: I’ve been one of those callers. When I was in college, I called Steve Somers once. I was so nervous and I called up and said Hi, Chris, this is Steve and I made some inane points shortly thereafter. Steve had fun with me and I completely understood it because I was the guy that was on the other end of this. Frankly, if Steve was doing Tik Tok videos in the 90’s, I would have fully expected to make an appearance on one.

RK: Would you rather be a Tik Tok video or a drop on a radio show? 

CC: I think I’d rather be a Tik Tok video because there’s more opportunity for viral spreading now. I know I’m doing a lot of New York guys, but it’s callers in total. As I do more national stuff as I have been for the last couple of years really, I’ll start to expand it a little bit. I don’t see this going on and on because you don’t want to beat a bit to death. It’s just been something that has been fun to do and something that’s different and something that’s made me think differently. Everybody’s trying to make their own impressions in every kind of space and I am just trying to do my own version of that, but also not beat a joke to death, so to speak. 

RK: We’ve seen Twitter and Instagram used to help people in this industry. How do you feel Tik Tok can be a tool that hosts can use to work out content that maybe wouldn’t make the best sense for live radio? 

CC: I think it’s interesting. I think things that you don’t get to, you certainly could. We all want to think that we’re funny. I want to think that I’m funny. I don’t believe I am all that funny. I think it is an area where you can expand a little bit more into. Admittedly, I am not a guy who sits here and studies it and understands exactly what all the machinations of it are that different people are doing. This was just something that I was taking a whack at. Absolutely, it’s a genre or an app that people should be more involved in if they’re not. I think every bit now helps.

RK: For someone who is reading this piece and worrying about being one of those callers and they are a first-time caller, what advice would you give them? 

@thatguycarlin

Sports Radio Callers: Don’t Be That Guy Part 1 #sports #mlb #sportsradio #radio

♬ original sound – Chris Carlin601

CC: I would think out your point in advance. If you’re nervous, I would even jot a couple of things down. Not read it, but I’d jot a couple of things down. If you’re going to try to tell me that the Jets should give up on Zach Wilson already, you better come with plenty of facts to back it up. That’s probably the quickest way to become one right now.

I would say just make sure that what you want to say is adding to the show. For you, that’s giving me your well-thought out take. I don’t think it’s anything too crazy. Chances are I’m not going to call you out personally because this is never going to be a personal thing or anything that’s mean in any way. At least, I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I don’t think it does.” 

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BSM Writers

The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing

“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”

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Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.

Charities of disgraced shock jock Craig Carton say he let them down; lawyer  calls it a 'gross misunderstanding' - New York Daily News
Courtesy: New York Daily News

There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.

Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.

If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?

I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.

Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.

Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.

Hello, My Name Is Craig
Courtesy: Audacy

You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.

Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.

“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.

We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.

If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?

You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.

Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?

It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.

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