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Fans Have Returned Inside Arenas, Stadiums — Why?

Nothing suggests it is safe or prudent to rush back to live sports events, but despite ongoing health risks, leagues and teams gladly will sell tickets to scads of eager game-goers.

Jay Mariotti

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The doors are swinging open again, and, inevitably, we’ll walk through them to our seats. Arenas and stadiums are cathedrals of the sports religion, after all, and like addicts drawn to crack, giddy fans can’t help themselves from re-absorbing the sights, sounds and smells before science says they’re ready.

Image result for basketball fans in stands

So 500,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and 100,000 more may perish by June 1. So only a small percentage of people have been inoculated to date, making Vaccine Envy a new thing. So variants of the virus could prolong the pandemic until 2022. So experts still aren’t sure if a vaccinated person can infect someone else. So Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. isn’t remotely close to herd immunity, telling NBC: “We want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we’re out of the woods.” So COVID is very much with us like hell on Earth.

So what?

It’s time to invite the paying customers inside because, you know, sports says so. And the fans say so, at least enough who care more about supporting teams than protecting fellow human beings.

The objective is money — the same old greed grab — yet what is the rush, people? Infectious disease experts say it’s foolish to let basketball crowds of up to 25 percent capacity for NCAA tournament games, which include dome settings in Indianapolis and San Antonio, when bodies are converging indoors from around the country. It’s understandable why the NCAA, which lost $375 million from last year’s cancellation, needs March Madness to recoup broadcast revenues. But is it necessary to take health risks inside venues? “We continue to use the knowledge we’ve gained over the season on how to conduct games in a safe environment,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert, who, as usual, is so blinded by dollars that he hasn’t addressed the possibility of superspreads.

Where I live, Los Angeles, the city postponed thousands of Dodger Stadium vaccination appointments because supply is limited, amid disturbing reports that Black and Latino communities are underserved in the inoculation process. Yet a logistical nightmare isn’t stopping the Dodgers from suggesting fans will be allowed inside the fabled ballpark in just a few weeks. “I hope, by Opening Day, we are finally going to have some fans in the park,” team president Stan Kasten said in a video, as if oblivious to the vaccine issues in the parking lot. “I don’t think it will be a full stadium just yet. But I do believe sometime during this season, the way things are looking, we will have a full stadium again.”

Guess they have to pay Trevor Bauer, right? I mean, who cares about the pandemic when the 2021 payroll is $255 million and Guggenheim Baseball is more than $45 million over the luxury tax threshold? Get those fannies in the seats, baby, even if they have to maneuver around the health workers and the line for Dodger Dogs isn’t safe.

The NBA? LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and other league stars aren’t the only ones opposed to an All-Star Game in Atlanta. So is the city’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who said, “I have shared my concerns related to public health and safety with the NBA and the Atlanta Hawks. We are in agreement that this is a made-for-TV event only, and people should not travel to Atlanta to party.” Yet that hasn’t stopped commissioner Adam Silver, who is whiffing badly on the 2020-21 season after drawing raves as a Disney World Bubble visionary, from proceeding with a one-day squeeze — game, skills competition and Slam Dunk contest — which surely will lure the usual party crowd despite the mayor’s edict. Why do this?

Money. The league’s $5 billion business in China continues to take massive financial hits, thanks to Silver’s continued support of Daryl Morey, he of the pro-Hong Kong tweet that rocked the geopolitical sphere. When Morey left his post as Houston Rockets general manager, China’s communist government might have been ready to lift an NBA broadcast ban on state-run CCTV. But when Morey was hired in the same role by the Philadelphia 76ers, the ban continued. Is it really worth keeping Morey employed as a top executive when the league stands to lose potential billions? Can anyone still say we’re living in the former America, land of the free and home of the brave? Coupled with a disjointed season that has suffered outbreak-forced stops and starts, the league and partner TNT simply need the cash flow from an event watched globally by tens of millions.

“All-Star is a part of our league, no different than the games we play,” Silver said. “It begins and ends with the fans. This is an event our fans love to see. They love to see the players come together. But nothing comes without controversy during a pandemic.”

That includes the remarks of Minnesota star Karl Anthony-Towns, who has lost his mother and six other family members to COVID-19. Said Towns, who contracted the virus last month: “I personally don’t believe there should be an All-Star Game, but what the hell do I know? Obviously, I haven’t dealt with COVID, right? I’m probably a guy who has some insight into that.”

Image result for karl anthony towns covid

The reason leagues can get away with hosting events and fans — including a Super Bowl crowd of 25,000 and growing numbers at NFL and college games — is the lack of general resistance among the masses. Many Americans are trying to survive and push their families through a life crisis, unconcerned about who wants to attend a sports event. As long as enough people show an interest in buying tickets regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated, teams will keep the turnstiles greased. The Phoenix Suns announced they would allow 1,500 fans to attend home games; within days, that number increased to 3,000-plus. This week, New York opens Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center to about 4,000 fans per game.

Spring training? Arizona and Florida have been among the virus-ravaged states, but a limited number of fans will be allowed for Major League Baseball exhibitions starting next week. The Diamondbacks sold out 2,200 tickets for each of 14 home games, prompting manager Torey Lovullo to say, “That fires me up. We’ve been looking forward to this day as much as them. We missed our fans, not just Diamondbacks fans but I think baseball fans throughout the entire United States. We’ve lost a little bit of a connection.”

Even Fauci, the noted baseball fan, softened when asked by ESPN about paying customers in the regular season. “A pretty good chance,” he said, “We could have people in the stands, maybe not right next to each other. There are going to be public health restrictions like mask-wearing, things like that.”

Again, why? Haven’t we discovered the last 12 months, with the one-year anniversary of Rudy Gobert Night arriving March 11, that the resumption of sports is facilitated by television? That the seasons still carry on as diehard fans and gamblers watch from home? In a sense, the industry has avoided a significant consumer issue that way. By not paying in-house prices, the fans haven’t felt ripped off watching periodic ragged competition in the NBA, NHL, MLB and college football and basketball. Only the NFL sustained a high quality of play, though only because quarterbacks are protected by safety rules that enable entertaining, tech-influenced offenses.

Imagine purchasing a ticket in Lake Tahoe for the NHL’s sun-aborted outdoor game. For big bucks, you’d have seen the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights play one period, then told to return eight hours later because the ice was melting. I like quirky stuff as much as anyone, but to resume play at 12:02 a.m. ET — gosh, it was past Gary Bettman’s bedtime.

“We knew that unabated sunshine was a problem,” said the commissioner, who had to flip the telecast from NBC to NBCSN, which is shutting down later this year. “After consulting with our ice-makers and both teams, we didn’t think it was safe or appropriate to continue this game at this time.”

Image result for lake tahoe ice

In using the plural “we” to describe the returning fan procession, I include myself, as one who covers sports for a living. But that will happen only after I am vaccinated, which should be the golden rule for all fandom. If nothing else, leagues and franchises should be eternally grateful that humans want to set foot in their buildings amid a deadly pandemic. I would suggest free admission and parking, unlimited food and drink, socially distanced meet-and-greets with players and foot massages.

But who am I kidding? They want your money, period.

And, somehow, you are eagerly giving it to them.

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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