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ESPN Has The Right Monday Night Booth For 2020

“With essentially a fan-less environment, the “right” three-man crew has the opportunity to engage their audience in a manner of depth never televised before.”

Stan Norfleet

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My goodness, was that not the most unpredictable NFL opening weekend ever?! We all expected the on-field product to be somewhat compromised, but what would that mean for gameday media coverage? Overall, I was pleased with efforts by all of the networks, ranging from NBC’s opening night in Kansas City to the story book conclusion of ESPN’s Monday Night Football doubleheader in Denver.

That said, it was game two’s broadcast crew Monday night which grabbed most of my attention this week. Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick (always value added with the great Lisa Salters working the sidelines) potentially provided the “secret sauce” for the ideal viewing experience given these unprecedented circumstances. With essentially a fan-less environment, the “right” three-man crew has the opportunity to engage their audience in a manner of depth never televised before.

ESPN names new Monday Night Football announcers - cleveland.com

Certainly, we’ve seen and heard a three-person booth work in the NFL before. Most notable for me, would be Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Dan Dierdorf. Yet, what constitutes the “right” crew in our contemporary society? And what makes the current MNF booth eligible for such distinction and promise, given their relatively short history working together?

My modest experience as a Color Analyst in a booth environment, leads me to believe the foundation to a quality broadcast team begins with the play-by-play (PxP) talent. It is without question a ridiculously difficult role!   

In this case, Steve Levy has been entrusted with this responsibility. Obviously, Steve is an accomplished and versatile broadcaster routinely seen on various ESPN/ABC platforms including NCAA football, NHL, XFL, and SportsCenter. Just last year Levy was awarded his first MNF call, where he teamed with the familiar faces of Griese and Riddick in their usual Color Analyst positions. 

Certainly, this familiarity with the guys helps Steve navigate his duties in approximately forty seconds or less. That said, having never met nor spoken with Levy, I get the sense that he is comfortable describing the story within the broadcast without becoming the story of the broadcast. He appears to know and understand his analysts well enough to set them up with commentary to make their assessments as seamless and impactful as possible, thus highlighting their experiences as former players and an executive.

Steve Levy, Greg McElroy and Dianna Russini to call 2019 Makers Wanted  Bahamas Bowl on ESPN – Bahamas Bowl

With all due respect to my broadcast family, some PxP voices want to be rock stars themselves, and habitually put the analysts in situations which don’t provide the experts the best opportunity punctuate the dialogue regarding a particular play or moment. Steve seems to humbly trust Brian and Louis, and appears to acknowledge the entertainment value for the viewer isn’t just in the scene-set, but also in the breadth of information discussed between these two parties in particular.

I can understand why the powers that be at ESPN would connect Brian Griese and Louis Riddick with Steve Levy. The chemistry on paper, and on-air, makes a lot of sense. Nothing but respect for his resume, however, Brian is obviously your prototypical “Golden Boy” quarterback turned commentator. No hate here, QBs usually know a ton about the game, and thus fit the role. However, it’s also his connection with his father, Bob, an NFL Hall of Famer and renowned broadcaster in his own right, which I find most compelling. I’m willing to assume here, that Bob has relayed to Brian many of lessons learned from Bob’s days with Don Shula, as well as various other pro football nuances along the way. That’s what I heard Monday night. I noticed elements of both a coach and a quarterback in a manner I hadn’t noticed from Brian before. 

Ex-Broncos QB Brian Griese takes on "Monday Night Football" role

Riddick on the other-hand, could be considered somewhat prototypical himself. Meaning, he went the scouting route after a respectable career in “The League.” Therefore, like myself to a lesser degree, he can speak both languages.

The viewer gets to interpret simultaneously the vantage point from the player and the Coach/GM. Louis is clearly a sharp dude, yet he boasts a little bit of an edge, which resonates with me. I also think it’s wise to have someone as culturally aware as Louis on the MNF broadcast, given the current emphasis by the NFL regarding race relations across the country. Riddick has been a trusted voice in this area via ESPN, and his contributions have been valuable, as I see it. 

ESPN Could Name Riddick, Griese, Levy As New 'MNF' Announcer Team

Add these three backgrounds up, and clearly MNF is in good hands at just the right time, regardless of what the ratings suggest for now. I see the potential for magic in that both, with Steve Levy effortlessly facilitating a genuine conversation between them. In Brian Griese and Louis Riddick, we have all bases covered. They present enough personality traits and football acumen for each of us to gravitate to in some capacity. A positive in all of this, is that without crowed stadiums, and thus a lesser need to “lay out,” we get even more time to come to know all three of these dudes, as well as the grander entertainment and informational value they can offer. With this crew, I can get READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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