THEY GET IT
Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels, NBC — As leagues drool like pack dogs to embrace legalized gambling, it’s vital they don’t allow integrity breaches to explode into wretched scandals. Kudos to Collinsworth for using prime time to expose Doug Pederson. In what obviously was a tank job to climb into a higher draft spot, Pederson yanked dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter of a tight game and inserted inept backup Nate Sudfeld, ensuring a stinker loss that pushed the 7-9 Washington Football Team ahead of the 6-10 Giants for a clownish NFC East title. Collinsworth echoed the raw disgust of bettors, Giants fans, some Eagles fans and sports purists alike when he said, “I simply could not have done it. You’ve got men out there that are fighting their guts out trying to win the game.’’ Chimed in partner Michaels, he of the wink-wink references about point spreads: “I agree, under the circumstances, absolutely. (If) they are getting blown out, yeah. And we mentioned, yesterday Doug said he wanted to get Sudfeld into the game. But in this circumstance? Come on.” The NFL does not want two prominent broadcasters on “Sunday Night Football,’’ the league’s showcase weekly event, delving into competitive ethics — a discussion many other paycheck-protectors would have avoided. As for Pederson, his nose grew longer than the Walt Whitman Bridge when he claimed he was “coaching to win.’’ Win what, the No. 6 pick?
The Athletic — In attack mode at last, the site has used its deep pool of reporters to break stories at a recent high clip. My usual complaint about The Athletic — a lack of critical edge — isn’t as glaring when each day brings more scoops. The churn is embarrassing ESPN, which, in turn, embarrasses itself by resorting to familiar bigfoot fakery. When The Athletic or another site breaks news, ESPN takes hocus-pocus credit with a line in an opening paragraph — such as, “sources tell ESPN’’ — while hoping the reader doesn’t notice an acknowledgment in a much later paragraph that the story first was reported elsewhere. It happened when ESPN insider Jeff Passan, writing about the trade of Blake Snell to the Padres and the names of prospects acquired by the Rays, ended his opening paragraph with a credit grab: “… sources familiar with the agreement told ESPN.’’ The story then waited six graphs to mention, “The Athletic was first to report the players going to the Rays in the deal.’’ Same goes for NBA insider Brian Windhorst, who said “sources told ESPN’’ that the Heat were not pursuing James Harden, then waited until his final graph to mention, “The South Florida Sun-Sentinel first reported the Heat’s decision to end the trade talks.’’ The Athletic was out front as the Cubs were peddling Yu Darvish to the Padres — by the way, San Diego hasn’t been this relevant since the Ron Burgundy days — but ESPN, playing catch-up again, didn’t even bother crediting the news-breaker, instead citing “sources familiar with the deal.’’ It was Chip Brown at Horns 24/7 who first tweeted Steve Sarkisian “is expected to be the new coach at Texas’’ — and minutes later, without a mention of Brown’s report, ESPN was reporting that sources were “telling ESPN’s Chris Low that the Longhorns have zeroed in’’ on Sarkisian. And when Saints star Alvin Kamara tested positive for COVID-19? We initially were led to believe “a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter’’ first when, in the final graph of the story, we learned “NewOrleans.Football was first to report Kamara tested positive.’’ ESPN is conveniently omitting that it is simply CONFIRMING what others have broken, which The Athletic did when reporter Scott Burnside “confirmed’’ the NHL is playing two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe, quickly noting “Sportsnet was first to report the NHL’s plans.’’ The practice is dirty and unethical, with executives and editors to blame for not stepping in, but the industry is afraid to call out the “Worldwide Leader.’’ I’m not — and how fitting that ESPN’s news desk recklessly posted a false story from a fake Schefter account Monday, forcing the network to issue a correction. It’s still an annoying topic for me, having once broken Michael Jordan’s return to basketball in the Chicago Sun-Times (with the Associated Press), only to see a beaten Sam Smith at the rival Tribune credit the AP and, um, an unnamed newspaper. This isn’t gamesmanship. It’s weasel-ism.
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN — From his home studio in Nashville, he showed how to responsibly stay on the job and do it well after a positive COVID-19 test. You never would have known he was in isolation while breaking down the Herbie Bowl, and while his allegiances to Ohio State (as a former player) and Clemson (his sons play there) again suggest a collegiate conflict of interest that hasten a bump-up to the “Monday Night Football’’ booth, his insights and commentary remained airtight. He mauled Mississippi State’s Mike Leach for his players’ roles in a sickening New Year’s Eve brawl, saying, “Mike Leach should be embarrassed. His postgame interview and what he said, `Hey, it’s football. Hey, it’s physical. It’s going to happen’ — are you kidding me, Mike? You should be embarrassed about your program and what it did. This is a black eye for the sport. Maybe you don’t care about the sport, dude. It’s as bad as it could be for people that are sitting around watching college football and that breaks out.’’ I couldn’t have said it better, dude, though the only reason Leach’s team was playing Tulsa in yet another needless game — the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl — is because it’s one of 17 bowls owned and operated by ESPN Events. I’d be even more impressed if Herbstreit had popped his bosses for overlooking a blatant detail in their desperation to air such shlock: Mississippi State came in at 3-7. The takeaway is this: Whereas Tony (the $180 million man) Romo missed his CBS assignment Sunday, due to COVID protocols, Herbstreit showed up and won the weekend.
Tom Rinaldi, Fox Sports — His ballyhooed move from ESPN doesn’t require much dissection. As a sentimental storyteller and interviewer, Rinaldi realized Fox is ensconced in the sacred Super Bowl rotation (unlike ESPN), carries the NFC championship game every year (unlike ESPN), televises the World Series every year (unlike ESPN) and has soccer’s World Cup in 2022 (unlike ESPN). He also is being paid appreciably more at Fox than at ESPN, where Disney has tightened pursestrings once yanked wide open for leading talent. He also has bosses who value his dramatic deliveries — OK, melodramatic — even more than they did at ESPN, which now can let foul-mouthed rappers set scenes with musical collages. “The biggest events on Fox just got bigger because of Tom,’’ said Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks, who describes Rinaldi as “one of the all-time great people in this business and a generational storyteller.’’ Indeed, Rinaldi is a happy and upbeat fellow, and he’ll be very happy painting pictures of hope, inspiration and kindness at Fox. Sometimes it’s as simple as a guy still believing sports is all about fairy tales and wanting to maximize his glee.
Mike Valenti, Detroit talk host — How refreshing to see a harsh critic of a rancid sports franchise gain the support of his corporate superiors … and ultimately win a political tug-of-war. Valenti was so scathing in his attacks on the Detroit Lions — and rightfully so — that they fled his station, 97.1 The Ticket, and took their broadcast rights to another outlet five years ago. In an uncommon step for sports radio, CBS Radio backed Valenti in the standoff, and last month, the Lions returned to The Ticket (now owned by Entercom) with their tail between their legs. How uncomfortable did the team make it for him at the time? Valenti said the senior vice president of communications, Bill Keenist, tried to have him fired and called him frequently during commercial breaks, disputing points he’d expressed on the air. Keenist has denied this, but I happened to be on the same college newspaper staff as Bill, and, yes, he can be a rah-rah shill who thinks he’s a media-controlling sheriff. Of course, I have my own experiences in this regard: a Chicago sports owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, leading a charge to run me off ESPN 1000 despite my stellar ratings. If someone with the stones of Valenti’s corporate backer, Chris Oliviero, had run my station back then, I’d still be ruling sports radio there. This time, content won and manipulation lost.
Dave Portnoy, Barstool Sports — This is the second straight “Five Who Get It’’ where I flunk math and count to six. But I am astonished — gobsmacked, actually — that the clown prince of sports media has raised more than $16 million for small businesses via The Barstool Fund. Of course, Portnoy could raise billions and not make us forget his racist and sexist rants and the creepy way he got started in the industry: publishing a photo of Tom Brady’s naked, then-toddler son. Consider this a healthy step forward … though, chances are, he’ll eventually step back into the same sewage.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Dan Le Batard, Free Agent — I commend him for a classy, grateful farewell show, with nothing but love for his father and colleagues on his final “Highly Questionable.’’ Still, it was awkward to see the host yapping on ESPN’s TV and radio platforms weeks after parting with a network he has napalmed for years. If ESPN is trying to expunge the Le Batard memory and move on, it shouldn’t have brought him back for a final day of shows in 2021. A bigger question for ESPN boss Norby Williamson, centrally involved in the divorce proceedings: What ultimately happens to Le Batard’s stable of loyal friends who remain on his former TV program? Ratings for the network’s afternoon talk block aren’t wowing anyone these days, and after the “High Noon’’ flop, the network should push creator Erik Rydholm to develop a fresher realm of programming. That is: less cartoonish humor and more viewer-connective substance. A note to Le Batard, 52, and his radio gang: The longer you stay idle with no major gig — Spotify? Sirius XM? — the less impact you’ll make in the future. “We approach this scary cliff together to take quite the leap of faith. Are you ready to jump with us?’’ Le Batard asked his radio fans. “If you’ve paid close attention, we’ve been ready to take this leap for awhile. We know the strength of the army that stands at attention at our back. I promise you, we’re going to show you how much we don’t take that for granted. I can’t wait to take you on this fight, and this flight, with us.” Are they doing radio? Or going to war?
Sports Betting Executives — Has someone stolen Chad Millman’s identity? Or was he always diabolical, even as editor-in-chief at ESPN.com, in hoping gambling sites disrupt the future of legitimate sports journalism? Now a top boss at the Action Network, Millman was asked by the Washington Post if betting companies will “save or swallow’’ sports media. “Why does it have to be one or the other? Can’t it be both?’’ he shot back. Does Millman not realize these are two disparate universes a zillion miles apart in moral purpose and intent? Does he actually think a game that bottomed into a rout an hour earlier can be connected in any ethical or realistic way to the phony game — driven by point spreads, over-unders and fantasy teams — still going on in the final minutes? It’s the latest comment that portends an alarming new reality: Authentic and responsible sports coverage will be devoured by brands, including those in mainstream media, chasing the casino money. Then there’s Brian Musburger, CEO of the Vegas Stats & Information Network. In a stunning statement that might interest the FBI, among others, Musburger sees hiring professional journalists and using inside information culled from sources and locker rooms to feed tips to bettors. WTF? Referring to Teddy Greenstein, the college football and golf writer who left the Chicago Tribune to join something called PointsBet Sportsbook, Musburger told the Post, “There is a long history of guys looking for an edge. It’s harder to have that now because information happens so fast. But guys like Teddy, who have their ear to the ground and have covered a beat — whether they know it or not, they have information important to sports bettors.” Excuse me while I take three showers. If leagues and teams begin to credential writers from such operations — not impossible as partnerships between sports and gambling interests blossom — hell, why not just stop writing about games and athletes and turn all reporters into dirtbags, tweeting every eavesdropped tip he or she unearths so some loser in Jersey City can lay down a phone wager? Said Musburger, nephew of media legend (and one-time crack journalist) Brent Musburger, who hosts a radio show for VSIN: “The places that have the money to hire the best writers right now are the folks that are serving the gambling audience. So it’s interesting.” No, it’s frightening — consider the scandals that await in sports and media when strategies like his exist. Unlike some writers, I’m fortunate I don’t have to work for these sites. But be damned sure I’ll be watchdogging them.
Charles Barkley, TNT — Don’t say I didn’t warn Barkley if he ends up in the craphole again. The man-child who once admitted to a gambling addiction that cost him at least $10 million — $2.5 million in six hours alone — somehow was allowed by the network (and parent AT&T) to place $100,000 on the Portland Trail Blazers to win the Western Conference. This actually happened during “Inside The NBA,’’ via league partner FanDuel, which suggests Barkley has slipped into dangerous old habits while NBA commissioner Adam Silver has lost his moral compass. I don’t care if Barkley ends up broke, but I do care if young people vulnerable to gambling illnesses now think it’s cool to bet on sports because Charles did so on TV. Of course, legal bets now can be made in numerous states over cellphones, many of which have accounts with … AT&T. Wait, I’m not through with Barkley. After Kevin Durant replied to post-game questions from the “Inside The NBA’’ crew with short answers — Barkley is a frequent critic of Durant — Barkley not only ridiculed Durant but brushed aside Kenny Smith’s subsequent question about whether it still bothers Charles that he never won a championship ring. He went into a sideways rant about idiot media people, not realizing he can be one himself.
Scott Van Pelt, ESPN — I’m thankful when anyone returns from the clutches of COVID-19, including the “SportsCenter’’ anchor. Perhaps he regrets his foolish comments of last spring. In the early stages of the pandemic, with sports on pause and trying to figure out responsible steps forward, Van Pelt callously argued one night that athletes — the strongest and ablest among us, he said — should be allowed to immediately resume games. Never mind the death toll in the real world. Never mind that ESPN had a vested interest in live events. Van Pelt spoke from an empty mind, not realizing that “One Big Thing’’ would become “One Real Big Thing’’ in his life come December. An idea: How about a segment where he lists the number of sports people infected since he opined so irresponsibly? People ask why I don’t like Van Pelt. It’s not about liking him … I just don’t respect him. Can we see more Neil Everett in that time slot, please?
Vince Doria, ex-ESPN executive — Not sure what possessed him to sit on the story of Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend in 2013, or why he let Te’o’s high-powered agent influence him in the matter. But Doria, an editor who launched many legendary news careers, lost respect when his former employer shamed him this week on a “Backstory’’ episode. He preferred to negotiate with agent Tom Condon for a face-to-face interview with the humiliated linebacker rather than immediately publish the news ESPN already had gathered, allowing a few rubes at since-deadspun Deadspin to finally get a story right after farcically botching so many others (oh, the lies they’ve told about me and anyone else who criticizes them). What’s interesting is how they’ve all since faded away — Doria into retirement, Te’o to the Chicago Bears’ practice squad and the ex-Deadspinners to menial jobs where they evidently can’t afford to wear better clothes on “Backstory.’’ When asked by ESPN reporter Don Van Natta Jr. if, in hindsight, he’d rather have the scoop or interview, Doria admitted, “Probably the scoop.’’ This is what happens, I suspect, when newspaper editors become TV bosses. They think ratings first, journalism second.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Does Mike & The Mad Dog Reunion Really Have Broad Appeal?
“My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy.”
I know this is an unpopular opinion, especially on a site built on the back of sports radio, but I also know that I am not alone when I say this. I do not get why ESPN is reuniting Mike & the Mad Dog on First Take on Wednesday.
That is not a comment about Mike Francesa or Chris Russo as people. I am not going to sit here and tell you their show was not groundbreaking or pretend that its success did not make it easier for the sports format to spread across the country. They deserve all of the credit and accolades they get from our industry.
My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy. Who outside of New York and/or outside of the broadcast industry feels like this is must-see TV? This feels like some real whiffing of our own farts.
When ESPN writes a press release about the success of First Take, they tend to highlight two demographics. It’s either with men 18-49 or with men 18-34. The age range is important because Mike & The Mad Dog hasn’t been a thing for almost 15 years. Francesa and Russo have had their own success in that time. It is not like they disappeared, but 2008 was a long time ago. Even lifelong New Yorkers in the desired demos may not have a strong connection to Francesa and Russo as a brand.
And then there are those of us outside of New York. We may understand that Mike & The Mad Dog was a thing, but what does it really mean to us? Outside of industry professionals, I would venture a guess that if you say “Mike and the Mad Dog” to someone from the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones, the very best-case scenario is that they would tell you that it sounds familiar, but they have no idea why.
Mike and the Mad Dog is a very specific dynamic, and credit to Stephen A. Smith and his producers, it is a dynamic that is perfect for First Take, but thanks to First Take, it isn’t a dynamic that I can only get from those two guys anymore. Their loud, unrelenting debates were revolutionary in 1989 when the show launched. Since then, the style has spawned so many imitators that I would worry the significance of the reunion will be lost on the average Joe tuning in from outside the Tri-State Area.
Smith is important enough to ESPN that if this is what he wants to do on First Take, then the bosses needed to make it happen. I respect that. But selling this as an event? It seems more exclusionary than anything. To us everywhere-elsers, Wednesday is just going to be an extraordinarily loud episode of First Take.
I have been working for Barrett Sports Media long enough to know the influence that people that are successful on New York radio have across the sports media industry. Why else would FS1 rearrange its schedule to make room for Craig Carton? If First Take were a show dedicated to debating ratings points and the value of digital audiences versus broadcast audiences, then a Mike & the Mad Dog reunion would be a home run.
But First Take is where sports fans turn to hear discussion of the Cowboys’ most recent playoff failure and the possibility that Nikola Jokic wins a third straight MVP award. Those are topics that cast a wide net – think like the net that commercial fishing vessels drop into the ocean. Using a walk down memory lane with Francesa and Russo as a ratings driver is like trying to catch fish with a pool skimmer.
Well okay, maybe not a pool skimmer. New York is really big, so let’s so it is like trying to catch fish with a laundry basket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Jamie Erdahl Reflects On First Season of Good Morning Football
“I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in.”
Jamie Erdahl, who was named in July 2022 as a new host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network following Kay Adams’ departure from the show, has looked to redefine the role of studio host and shatter the boundaries of being simply a moderator passing the baton to analysts throughout her career in sports media.
“I don’t personally feel that it’s my job to include them,” Erdahl said of her colleagues. “I like to think that this show is the four of us including each other in the conversation, and I happen to be the one that gets us on the air [and] gets us off the air, but everywhere in-between that it’s very much an equal lift if you will.”
Since its inception in August 2016, Good Morning Football has provided football fans unparalleled coverage of their favorite sport through recurring segments, interviews with active players and alumni, live demonstrations and insightful analysis. Aside from Erdahl, the show cast consists of Kyle Brandt, who was the former executive producer of The Jim Rome Show, along with NFL analyst Peter Schrager, former NFL cornerback and Super Bowl champion Jason McCourty.
Erdahl never thought hosting a national morning football show produced by a league-owned media outlet was realistic nor possible in the first place, wherefore she focused her early career endeavors towards covering local teams. In fact, her first exposure to sports media was as a 16-year-old shadowing broadcasters and answering the phones at KFAN Sports Radio in Minneapolis, screening callers who wanted to discuss the Minnesota Vikings among other topics.
After transferring from St. Olaf College to American University, Erdahl was placed into a production internship with ESPN through the Association for Women in Sports Media in a role she refers to as one of her “most formative professional experiences off-camera.” Her principal responsibility was cutting highlights for Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, along with writing scripts for the anchors to recite over the highlights during the broadcast.
“To this day, I don’t think I would be as great or as strong at reading highlights if I had never had that opportunity at ESPN,” Erdahl said. “….I don’t think you can be really good on the air if you don’t have a full understanding of what it takes to get there from a production standpoint.”
Out of college, Erdahl returned to Minneapolis, where she worked as a freelance reporter at Fox Sports North, a regional sports network. In that role, she was a sideline reporter for various high school basketball games and Minnesota Lynx WNBA contests. One year later, she made the move to Boston to join NESN as an on-air anchor and reporter, contributing both to studio coverage and in-person event coverage ranging from the Boston Marathon to Boston College hockey.
Through several years of persistence and determination, Erdahl was afforded more opportunities and chances to continue elevating her skills. During her first year at NESN, she was working on NESN Sports Today as an anchor and reporter while also filling in for Jenny Dell as a field reporter for Boston Red Sox games. By September 2013, she was named the new rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins live game broadcasts where she succeeded Naoko Funayama, an established broadcaster who held the role for nearly six years.
“[Boston], more than any [market] I’ve ever been around, expects the world of you,” Erdahl said. “They expect the world of their athletes; of their coaches; of their organizations; and then of the media that covers the team. They’ll sus you out right away if they have a sense that you don’t know what you’re talking about or if you don’t know their team like the back of your hand like they do.”
Over her season as the rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins games on NESN, Erdahl performed her job well but internally struggled to report solely on the team. In being immersed in the dynamic atmosphere of a professional team, it is entirely plausible that while the storylines may change, much of the quotidian routine is mundane in nature.
Akin to a beat reporter, Erdahl’s job was to focus her work on the Bruins and NHL at large while remaining cognizant of Boston sports. Through it all, she inherently desired something more – a role in which she could cover several teams within a sport rather than just one.
“I am amazed at the people who can do 162-plus baseball games a year,” Erdahl said. “I just applaud them so much. I think your wealth of knowledge is admirable, but I found it so challenging to, let’s say, do 82-plus [games] of hockey because I felt like I wanted more sport variety.”
In 2014, Erdahl signed with CBS Sports as a sideline reporter for the NFL on CBS, traveling every week around the country to uncover stories and perspectives enhancing the game broadcast. She primarily worked with the No. 3 broadcast team of Greg Gumbel and Trent Green, along with director Suzanne Smith, who has served as one of Erdahl’s mentors. The move from reporting in one city to adopting a peripatetic lifestyle helped her with professional development and allowed her to cultivate relationships around the country.
“When you are at the regional [sports network], you’re just answering to that one team,” Erdahl said. “I loved reporting but what I loved about when I got to CBS was [that] you are answering to the broadcast; you are answering to players from both sides. You had to work to make sure that your coverage was fully equal.”
After several seasons covering the NFL, Erdahl was named the lead reporter for college football on CBS Sports, including within its SEC broadcast package. Despite the game being similar in many ways, college football presented challenges to Erdahl, largely due to the size of the rosters and the fact that many SEC on CBS Game of the Week broadcasts regularly included the Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs and Louisiana State University Tigers.
Next season will be the final year CBS will broadcast SEC games before the conference’s media rights agreement with The Walt Disney Company (ABC/ESPN) takes effect: a 10-year deal worth a reported $300 million annually. CBS will broadcast the Big Ten Conference instead, inking a 7-year deal for the second-best rights package worth a reported $350 million annually.
“Here I was back again [asking], ‘Okay, how do I make things new and fresh?,’” Erdahl said. “You can’t talk to Tua Tagovailoa every time on the phone. You’ve got to branch out; you’ve got to tell other guys’ stories.”
In addition to reporting on college football and NFL games, Erdahl was one of the first anchors on CBS Sports HQ, a free 24/7 sports news network available to stream on multiple platforms. She also reconnected with her athletic roots when she provided sideline reporting for CBS Sports’ coverage of March Madness. Her alacrity for the game and proficiency in its vernacular gave her an advantage as a media member reporting on one of the year’s premier events.
“My translation speed, let’s say, of what I hear in a basketball huddle is so much faster to laymen’s terms in basketball than it is for football,” Erdahl said. “That’s just a matter of I played basketball; it is a part of my lifeblood; it is part of my body and soul and upbringing.”
Erdahl eventually moved back into sideline reporting for the NFL on CBS; however it differed the second time around because she had two young children at home and had to leave them from Thursday to Sunday each week. Although she was content with her role at CBS and had the support system in place to make it possible, she wanted to be able to see her children grow up and spend time with them.
At the same time, continuing to cover football was important to her and a reason why she considered a studio-based hosting role. In the end, she was ultimately named the new co-host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network.
“Professionally, I think I was very much honing my skill set to become a really great, strong sideline reporter at CBS,” Erdahl said. “I grasped at the opportunity to become a really great, strong studio host. I’m not there yet – it’s only been six or seven months – but I really wanted this job in particular to get me to a place within the NFL [and] within the industry to be a really good host.”
For 15 hours per week, Erdahl is on television discussing the game of football with Brandt, Schrager, McCourty and Selva, along with a plethora of other guests and industry experts. Entering the role from the perspective of a sideline reporter, she has found many aspects of her previous role permeate into this job, most notably those pertaining to listening to others.
“As a sideline reporter, all you can do is be eyes and ears and you’re just hoping that if you’re not the one saying it on the broadcast, you’re relaying information back to the truck or to the play-by-play guy to make sure that what you’re seeing or hearing on the field is getting on to the broadcast…. I like to take that back into a studio setting. Very easily we could sit around the table and we could each talk for a minute and give our takes, but then you’re not really listening to each other.”
Before landing the job, Erdahl had conversations with Kay Adams where they discussed the role and just what makes it unique. Their discussions left Erdahl energized and eager to get started and disseminate her opinions and points of view to consumers on weekday mornings.
“You get to have your own arc of creativity, no matter what chair you’re sitting in,” Erdahl expressed. “I think Kay did that incredibly well for six years. People loved Kay for all the things that she did – but the job isn’t, ‘Here’s how Kay did it; do it the way Kay did.’ That’s not how it was presented [to] me [and] I don’t think Kay would have wanted it that way.”
Over the years, Erdahl has established relationships with colleagues and competitors alike in sports media, staying in touch and reaching out for advice. She was friendly with many of her colleagues at the NFL on CBS, including Tracy Wolfson, Amanda Balionis and Melanie Collins, along with ESPN/Amazon Prime Video’s Charissa Thompson and NFL Network host Sara Walsh. She also estimates speaking to SEC on CBS analyst Gary Danielson weekly, someone who was instrumental in her development as a broadcaster and learning more about the game of football.
Erdahl and the rest of the Good Morning Football on-air personalities do not simply show up to the studios to broadcast each morning; rather, there is an immense amount of preparation that goes into each and every show beginning the night before.
On a shared document, show producers compile a layout for the next day’s program and Erdahl and the other personalities write notes and perspectives to better inform the rest of the crew as to their individual thought processes. There is a production crew that works overnight to monitor the news cycle and prepare production elements for the next day’s program so by the time 7:00 AM ET comes around, the team is ready to produce three hours of insightful football coverage.
“The information wheel in the NFL is just constantly turning so it’s easier for me just to kind of, throughout the day, remain aware of it so then at night, I can answer all my stuff and then tomorrow, I feel a little bit more prepared,” Erdahl said. “I’m not cramming for an hour before the show…. It’s easy to kind of stay swimming in it.”
As Erdahl reflects on the impending completion of her first full season on the show, she intends to learn from her mistakes, such as relying on certain statistics or storylines as a crutch for extended periods of time, to improve as a studio host. She also aims to augment her creativity, learn more about the history of the game and demonstrate energy for the game – all qualities imbued within Brandt, Schrager and McCourty, respectively – to become a “master of the NFL.”
“I was lucky I got through the season,” Erdahl said. “I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in terms of making sure I don’t have those crutches.”
Viewers of Good Morning Football or other NFL Network programming might be skeptical towards the legitimacy of some opinions because of the oversight the league has on the broadcast outlet. Yet over her time with NFL Network, Erhardt does not feel as if she has been suppressed in editorializing her views.
Moreover, it is the responsibility of the show to balance subjectivity and the maintenance of professional relationships in football with the display of objectivity and proffering of genuine analysis. After all, she believes the league trusts that she is on the air for a reason, and works to ensure the league communicates its storylines in a way discernible to a variety of demographics.
“I haven’t felt the hindrance whatsoever in terms of editorial direction that would make me feel like I shouldn’t do something,” Erdahl said. “I would say mostly on the daily, I get the green light from the things that we try to accomplish as a show.”
There are many football fans across the United States, and it can be safely assumed that many of them have at least thought about potentially covering the game as a media member. Yet very few aspiring media professionals reach the point Erdahl has; in fact, some of her most memorable moments over the years are when she was told she had received certain jobs. Although her skills on the air are evident, her demeanor and team-oriented mindset has separated herself from other candidates and led to sustained success and growth amid a competitive marketplace.
“Sixty percent of being good at this job has nothing to do with being on television, in my opinion,” Erdahl articulated. “I think it’s about a good, honest, ethical person that is nice to people; that is easy to be around; that coaches and athletes in particular want to be around and want to talk to [and] tell their story to. The other stuff will come because you are speaking to something that you went about the right way.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Why Do NFL Fans Want More Greg Olsen and Less Tony Romo?
Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down film of offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast.
Five years ago, Tony Romo retired as an active NFL player, jumped into the CBS broadcast booth, and immediately became the darling of fans and media for the excitement he brought to his telecasts. Romo’s enthusiasm for the game and understanding of modern offense allowed him to predict plays successfully, making him an instant sensation.
Greg Olsen will finish his second season as a full-time broadcaster on Feb. 12 from the NFL’s biggest stage, calling Super Bowl LVI for Fox with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t drawn the must-see buzz that Romo did early in his TV career. No fan likely tuned into Fox’s top NFL telecast, “America’s Game of the Week,” to listen to Olsen’s analysis. His work doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of acclaim.
But the shine has worn off Romo with viewers during the past couple of NFL seasons. Watching a game with Romo in the booth previously felt like sitting alongside a fellow fan, jubilant at fantastic plays or clever strategy, and disappointed at performances that fell short. His energy also elevated Jim Nantz as a play-by-play announcer, bringing him back to life after 13 seasons alongside Phil Simms.
Now, however, Romo’s outbursts — noises in place of words, or outright yelling — seem like a crutch when coherent thoughts can’t be articulated. Where there was once fascinating insight from the analyst position, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback often resorts to clichés and platitudes that don’t add to a fan’s understanding of what’s happening on the field.
Worst of all, Romo sometimes talks merely to talk, filling a quiet space when a broadcast needs to breathe or the images are saying enough on their own. That’s especially awkward when paired with a veteran like Nantz, who’s a master at letting the moment speak for itself rather than trying to punctuate it with unnecessary narration.
On Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, Olsen explained how play-calling changes when an offense intends to go for it on fourth down. He showed an awareness of the strategies that each coach employed to gain an advantage or neutralize what the opponent was doing well.
Early on, he highlighted San Francisco defensive end Joey Bosa holding back on his natural impulse to pursue the quarterback at all costs. Instead, he maintained a position that prevented Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts from running to gain yardage when pass plays weren’t available.
With analysis like this, Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down the film of their respective offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast. He doesn’t appear to be surprised by what he sees because that prep work — watching film, talking to coaches and players — informs him of the eventualities and possibilities that could arise during a game.
The hardcore football fan, those who repeatedly watch highlights and replays, loves that kind of analysis. Such attention to detail feels gratifying because it demonstrates that the person calling the broadcast is as serious about this stuff as the viewer who’s waited all week for the big game.
Yet a more casual fan is also drawn in because of Olsen’s amiable personality and ability to explain things simply and clearly. It’s similar to what viewers enjoy about ESPN’s “ManningCast” for Monday Night Football. Yes, there are jokes and funny moments. But Peyton and Eli Manning both explain strategy and preparation very well.
By comparison, Romo comes off like a broadcaster who’s winging it, letting his personality and enthusiasm fill gaps created by a lack of preparation. That might be a completely unfair criticism. We don’t know what kind of work Romo puts in leading up to a telecast. Maybe he watches as much film as Olsen. Perhaps he talks to everyone available to the broadcast crew in production meetings.
If so, however, that doesn’t show itself on the CBS telecast. Romo’s work on Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game telecast was an improvement over his call of the Bengals-Bills divisional playoff clash. During the previous week, Romo acted as if he didn’t have to provide any insight because this was the match-up fans had anticipated all season and already knew everything about the two teams.
Perhaps in response to that criticism, Romo made a point of highlighting the importance of each team’s defensive coordinator — Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, respectively — in disrupting the performance of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. But rather than demonstrate an actual strategy during a replay, he stated that each defense would come after the opposing QB and create pressure.
Ultimately, the difference between Romo and Olsen seems to be schtick versus knowledge. But it’s also a product of how each analyst reached their position. Romo joined CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team without previously calling any games. (As BSM’s Garrett Searight points out, that immediacy and recent connection to the game fueled what felt like fresh analysis.)
Meanwhile, Olsen called games during bye weeks while he was still an active player and was on Fox’s No. 2 crew with Burkhardt before being elevated to top status following the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN. He’s had to get better out of necessity. Even now, as Olsen establishes himself as his network’s top analyst, he faces the possibility of being bumped from that position when Tom Brady retires and cashes in on the massive contract Fox offered him.
Compare that to Romo, who’s the highest-paid NFL analyst on television. His $18 million annual salary set the bar other top broadcasters are trying to reach. And he has seven years remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with CBS. That is significant job security. Even if network executives (or Nantz) lean on Romo to improve his flaws, how much motivation is there when he’s already been anointed a broadcasting king?
However, NFL fans and sports media are making it clear what they prefer from their football broadcasters. They want insight and substance. They want to learn something from the commentary, rather than just be told what they can see for themselves.
Olsen is providing that and is being rightly lauded as a broadcaster living up to his status. Romo is suffering a fall from acclaim and has become a weekly punching bag. If he and CBS want to change that, he’ll have to bring more to the booth each week. In the meantime, Fox should consider appreciating what it already has, rather than welcome a glitzy name.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.