The first time a media boss asked me to use Twitter, I said, “What kind of noise can anyone make in 140 characters?’’ Obviously, I underestimated the power of microblogging and the enablement of any idiot to self-publish. That includes idiots in sports media, who derive cheap thrills from trying to be funny when, if they truly were funny, they’d be professional comedians and not sports media people.
When Chicago radio caveman Dan McNeil lost his mind and his job — and, most likely, his career — by comparing the outfit of ESPN’s Maria Taylor to that of a porn awards host, it created a moment of reckoning for the industry. Should executives continue encouraging on-air personalities to splash thoughts across social media because of a presumed formula (followers become listeners who feed ratings)? Or should bosses finally apply common sense: Why risk inflammatory tweets that prompt firings or suspensions and bring damaging corporate publicity when hosts could follow the golden rule of opinion-making?
Save it for the show!
That’s what I decided to do. After years of assuming my every thought about sports and life should be shared immediately, via that bird, I realized the daily churn was juvenile, dumb and counterproductive. Why not simply utilize Twitter as a convenient way to post my best daily work — columns, podcasts, appearances on other platforms — and restrict my observations about the world only to those vehicles? If a company is paying handsome or even homely salaries to broadcasters or writers, they should devote every morsel of creativity and brainpower to their gigs, not saving stuff for 9:52 p.m. after a second glass of red wine. Imagine Aaron Rodgers withholding two or three plays during a game, then running them later in his backyard.
I became the Marie Kondo of social media. I follow only one feed, a Los Angeles radio station that used to give away free tickets to music shows. My batch of followers, once ample, shrunk to the current 8,600 — though I still have the blue checkmark that verifies I have “an account of public interest.’’ To read some of the reactions from the Twitter rabbit hole, my strategic numbers decline reflects some sort of deep personal failure and rapid life deterioration that should cause me to “go kill yourself.’’ In truth, it means I’ve graduated from the kids’ sandbox.
If only McNeil and others in the discharged-by-Twitter club had made the same call. Think about it: Possessed by the same urge to insult Taylor on the air, McNeil likely would have been saved, albeit undeservedly, by a producer with a trusty, seven-second-delay dump button.
Social media is a brain suck. You spend too much time consumed with superfluous b.s. and not enough on integral career requisites: outworking, outthinking, outpreparing, outwriting and outbroadcasting the competition. The people who aren’t capable of beating you, honestly and fairly, resort to outsleazing you, such as those who hide behind burner accounts to criticize rivals. I had a “teammate’’ in Chicago who used such an account to smear me in the industry. I’ve sat in press boxes where reporters, paid to watch the game, are cracking wise in group chats. There’s a freelance baseball reporter in the Midwest who has tweeted 275,700 times; maybe if he spent more time breaking news and improving his writing, he’d land a full-time beat job. These people are wasting more energy trying to impress each other instead of the bosses who pay them and the consumers who read, watch and listen to them.
So, why tweet? I thought it was a way to personally engage with an audience, but when you’ve had a high-powered career of voicing strong opinions via a big-city newspaper column, a daily ESPN debate show and numerous radio hosting roles, many folks don’t want to engage. They want to exact revenge for something you’ve said or written, or perhaps threaten to gouge your eyes. Sure, bosses like social-media numbers, but at what point does it become a zero-sum game? As for a host’s contention that he or she should have freedom of speech, an employer should own the right to protect a brand from erosion or, in McNeil’s case, sabotage.
The entire tweeting exercise is phony, pumping a device with furious thumbs and fingers when being social is best experienced via face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. Even if you mean well, it often doesn’t end well. Every so often, I’d use Twitter to critique fine sports-media efforts and, occasionally, efforts that reeked. What was I thinking? One day, I wondered why a fledgling site that broke a major story — FanRag Sports — didn’t realize “Rag’’ is a derogatory term in the publishing world; I was attacked by 2,000 Rag-dolls in four hours, which didn’t prevent the site from shutting down two years later. The maulings were nastier when I reminded the Twittersphere that the founder of Barstool Sports launched his career by publishing nude photos of Tom Brady’s then-toddler son; the Stoolies bombed my podcast page with 3,200 poor ratings.
In San Francisco, I hadn’t even started a columnist/editor gig when the editor-in-chief of a rival news outlet, who should have known better, wrote a derogatory (and legally inaccurate) tweet about me. I didn’t respond — and one of her editors expressed regrets to me for her actions. But a year later, when our operation ran out of sufficient resources to continue a competitive sports section and I was heading back to L.A., I decided to tweet what I thought of her general job performance. Naturally, a crap website wrongly assumed I was fired for the posting, but such are the dangers of tweeting; there is no context from even an hour earlier, much less a year earlier. (The editor-in-chief no longer is there.) Later, in the same market, I asked why a grown man would go through life as the “Bay Area Sports Guy’’ when he has a given birth name. So I used Twitter to have him make imaginary tour stops at various towns in the region — such as, “Bay Area Sports Guy spotted in Fremont.’’ Hey, I was bored. These days, he actually goes by his given name at The Athletic, though I can’t recall what it is because I’ll always know him as this Sports Guy.
Then we had Scott Van Pelt Night. I’ve never been a fan of his brown-nosing of sports figures and overgrown-bro-dude act — the man is 54 years old — and during one particular show, he was more into a partying vibe than delivering the news I’d wanted from that day. So I tweeted my dismay, asking why “SportsCenter’’ at the time was missing the sensibilities and gravitas of the “30 For 30’’ documentary series. He Van-pelted me with a low-brow, ignorant tweet, I fired back with a meaty shot or two, and goodness gracious, I was in a Twitter war!
I’d like to think that episode was partially responsible for the improved, sharper-focused and more professional “SportsCenter’’ we see today. Which leads to my point. Why take to Twitter when the more effective and dignified vehicle would be a site such as, well, Barrett Sports Media, where I mix sports media criticism with sports columns every week?
Since 2018, my Twitter account has consisted primarily of columns, podcasts and show appearances. When I have something to say, my thoughts are confined to those platforms. Under my Twitter avatar, where I’m allowed to briefly describe who I am and what I’ve done, I conclude the word block thusly:
Best Life. Real.
Those descriptions were made possible only by getting out of the Twitter gutter, leaving the ants to march on without me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.