Meet The Market Managers: Mary Menna, Beasley Boston
“You have to do what’s right, and when what’s easy and what’s right are the same thing, you know you’ve hit the jackpot.”
In her radio life, Mary Menna only knows one place. A Jersey girl by birth, Mary has been working in Boston radio ever since she attended college there. She started as an original promotions assistant at WBCN. Now she runs Beasley’s six-station cluster in the city, which includes 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Everyone knows the Sports Hub’s track record of success: monster ratings, reliable revenue, and more than a few Marconi Awards. Since it’s launch, it has become one of the dominant brands in Boston let alone across the country. That’s why when Mary learned there might be a chance to bring the station into the Beasley family, she jumped.
In this latest edition of the Meet the Market Managers series presented by Point To Point Marketing, I chat with Mary about play-by-play relationships, the previous challenge of replacing Mike Thomas, managing a cluster through a pandemic on the fly, and much more. Check it out.
Demetri Ravanos: Tell me a little bit about what the conversations were like at Beasley when you realized that there was a legitimate opportunity to bring 98.5 The Sports Hub in-house.
Mary Menna: So that was in 2017. We were at an NAB Conference in whatever city it was in during that year. Caroline Beasley asked me to go to her suite for a meeting, which I did, and in that meeting she said “Normally I would make you sign an NDA, but you’re going to swear that you’re not going to say anything to anyone. And I said, “I promise.”. She’s my CEO! She told me, “There is an opportunity for us to buy a spin off from the Entercom/CBS deal. What would you want?”. I said, “the only station I want is Sports Hub.” She said, “that’s the only one you want?” I said, “that’s the only one I want.”
Then I think she went and talked to David. I think Entercom would have wanted to keep WEEI anyway, because WEEI was a cornerstone of their company at the time. It was the biggest station they had, and they had a lot invested in it, not to mention a lot of emotional investments in it as well.
We initially talked about perhaps doing a two station deal for two stations and in the end it became the Sports Hub for Magic 106.7 plus cash.
DR: Was it a situation where you and Caroline had the conversation and you had to be quiet about it until the deal was done? Or were you able to share the news and strategize in your building before the deal was announced?
MM: I was not able to share it with anyone, but a hurricane happened that year. I think the hurricane was hitting Naples at the time. After that meeting, I brought Caroline back to Boston and the joke was we were kidnapping her and not letting her leave. She worked out of our Boston office for several days, and during that time she brought in our VP of programming, Cadillac Jack. But it wasn’t up to me to bring anyone in. It was up to her. It was her secret.
She bought Cadillac in on it and then we strategized it. We didn’t want to give up Magic because that was our flagship in Boston at the time, the largest station that we had. But that was the deal. We had to give them Magic. So we did.
DR: So the station then comes into your building, and it was a really interesting dynamic because Phil Zachary ends up leaving Boston’s Entercom cluster to move to Hartford, and Mark Hannon, who had a major role in building the Sports Hub along with Mike Thomas as part of CBS Radio, now moves over to Entercom.
I would imagine that there were guys on the Sports Hub staff wondering what this change was going to mean for them and their options. How did you handle talking to them, making them feel welcome, and making it clear that Beasley had a vision for the brand’s future?
MM: When that happened, it affected four different companies in the marketplace. iHeart got some spin-offs, we got the Sports Hub, CBS and Entercom were merging, and people didn’t know which boat they were going on. Then it was all held up by the DOJ. You had people in conference rooms all over the city waiting for a tentative time of when we’d be able to announce it, and we were all going to announce it at the same time, but were waiting on the DOJ.
We thought we had a certain time all set but then the DOJ got held up. We took them out of the conference rooms because we thought, “well, we can’t let them sit there any longer,” but then once we did that, maybe 20 minutes later, we got them all back in and announced what was happening.
There was a lot of speculation going around the marketplace even before that. Nobody knew who was getting what or where they were going. Mark and I are friends, and Alan at iHeart and I are really good friends, because I worked there for a million years and we worked together. Some of the transition was made easier because of those relationships. We all wanted to do the right thing for our people because they’re the ones that were being displaced, and they didn’t know what was happening to their livelihoods, their families, their jobs, and all of that stuff.
I had already set up a meeting. I was going to be able to go into the CBS building and meet with The Sports Hub staff, and then come back here. Mark would then come here to meet with our people. I went to the CBS building with some of my key people. We did a meeting. Mark introduced me. They could tell that Mark and I had a good relationship and thought, “OK, well, let’s see if he likes her and she likes him, we’re going to be OK.” You know, it’s like parents are getting divorced and you want to make sure that the kids are OK, right? What we announced at that meeting was “we have a very limited amount of time here. We wanted to come and welcome you and introduce ourselves, and answer any of the questions that you might have that we might be able to answer now, and just tell you it’s going to be OK, but bear with us.”
I scheduled a cocktail party, because I do like cocktails, that afternoon at a bar/restaurant right near their office. So I said, “if anybody would like to get to know us better, we’re going to have a few other managers that aren’t here at this meeting, come over and join us. We’ll be there at 4:00. You can come by and have a drink with us.”
I always think that you can break the ice better in a social situation rather than in a big group meeting where people are afraid to speak. So we did that. We had a great time and rolled out the red carpet. I think that was really just a good way to deal with a really difficult situation, because we ended up not taking over the station for another month. They were in a trust, so that adds a whole other layer of corporate weirdness because when they’re in a trust, we’re not really allowed to deal with them. We were able to do small stuff, but we couldn’t make decisions. The trust makes decisions. They were still in the other building for quite some time because we had to build out studios. There was a little bit of lag time.
The sales people ended up coming over before the rest so sales and programming were disjointed because they couldn’t see each other. It was just a series of stuff. It wasn’t until July after the deal was done that the studios were completely done, and they are beautiful. They’re also TV studios. It’s not like you put up a couple of boards. There had to be a lot of cameras, lighting, more cable, and other technology because two of our shows broadcast on NBC Sports Boston.
DR: Particularly when you have the sales staff in the Beasley building and the programming staff not yet moved over, how important was it in your mind to connect with Mike Thomas and make sure he was able to sell what Beasley wanted to do with the station to his staff, or make sure his staff understood what Beasley didn’t plan to do with the station that some people may have feared?
MM: Mike had an office here too. He went back and forth a lot. So Mike and I were attached at the hip.
You know, here’s the thing. In 2021, we’re used to remote communication, right? But in 2017 it was a little clunkier. Now you’d say “What was the problem? We do remote communication 22 times a day.” But at that point it was a little different.
You had to be respectful. It was someone else’s building. It’s not like I could decide on the drive in “I’m going to pop in and see T&R this morning, and just sit in on the show.” It wasn’t my house. You had to be respectful. If I needed to have an insurance meeting there with people, I would go through the right channels because you can’t just show up unannounced.
Mike had a little bit more leeway because we had to have an office in that building. We had to be respectful of the boundaries between all of the companies. I think iHeart had some people in there for a while too. So it was just a really weird time. But like I said, if it was 2021 after a pandemic, it would be a little more normal. We worked through it though. You try to build relationships over the phone. You have in-person lunches with people. That was a great thing. You do a cocktail at the end of the day with someone. You go to games with them. If they’re broadcasting at games, you stop by the broadcast booth to spend a little time with them. We were able to build those relationships, we just didn’t see them every day.
It was great to finally bring them all together and welcome them into the building on a full time basis. I think we migrated different departments over that period of time and the last people to come over were when we flipped the switch on a weekend and brought the on air team over.
DR: I appreciate the detail on all of that. It allows industry people who follow Boston to get a sense of what that period of time was like. Let’s fast forward a bit though. Mike Thomas moved on at the end of 2019 to Chicago where he’s now the Market Manager for ESPN 1000. That meant you had arguably the most coveted PD job available in sports radio in decades. I’m sure your phone and inbox were full of messages and members of your corporate team were being hit up regularly. What was it that gave you the confidence that Rick Radzik could ascend to the top job and keep the brand thriving?
MM: Rick was the assistant program director for the entire duration of the existence of the station, so he has a lot of institutional knowledge. This radio station, as many sports stations do, has so many moving pieces: three on-air hosts in every day part, four play-by-play properties, live weekends, etc.. He knew how all those moving pieces worked.
We interviewed a lot of people, and I’ll say that the team really rallied for Rick. As a matter of fact, Marc Bertrand had bumper stickers made up for him. In addition, they started a write-in campaign and got signatures around the building. It was really heartwarming to see the team wanted him and was rallying for him. I did talk to people and made sure that they didn’t just want Rick because Rick was going to be easy on them or he was the person that they knew. I always say that when you have an open position like that, you have to interview a lot of people because you can’t do what’s easy. You have to do what’s right. When what’s easy and what’s right are the same thing, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
It became clear that was what was right and easy was the same person – Rick. When those two things come together you know you’re making the right decision that affects so many people. If you put the wrong PD in a situation like The Sports Hub, where so many big personalities are involved, it can screw up the whole thing.
Then I looked at Rick in his first year in that job and he gets hit with a pandemic. In March he gets hit with the end of live sports. We’ve got to punt, kick, and try to figure this all out. If there was somebody in that job that wasn’t familiar with the infrastructures of the Patriots, Bruins and the Celtics, and didn’t know the inner workings of our talent and scheduling, it would have been a disaster. But he had all that institutional knowledge.
If we had somebody from another market who didn’t know all of the personalities, sports teams, and simple things like ‘how do you get from TD Garden to here?’ and capable of making those lines work, it could’ve been rough. We’re really, really lucky, and I was very proud that in his first year in the job, Rick propelled himself onto your list at #5. Thank you for that. I think that’s a true testament to his abilities and what he’s done in this year.
DR: Anyone that I’ve had a conversation with about Rick is a true believer with him in that position. I’ve never heard from anyone where the reaction was “I can’t believe they’re going with the APD instead of, candidate X.”
MM: I think that if someone does a really good job and works really hard for 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, whatever the case may be, that person should receive extra consideration. Especially if they’re great.
You don’t want people to have to leave your organization to grow. You should be able to grow your own people. That’s what we do as coaches, right? We want to mentor our people and make them better.
What’s the message? Once you get great, you need to go to another market? That’s not something that you really want in terms of a really solid organization and keeping it going into the future.
DR: Speaking of Rick’s institutional knowledge of The Sports Hub, you guys had a moment last year where Fred Toucher needed to step away from the morning show for a period of time. That show is a powerhouse, not just in Boston, across the format, nationwide too. Everybody knows what ‘Toucher and Rich’ do. I wonder if you or Rick ever allowed yourselves to entertain or even sat down to make a plan for “what is our plan in mornings if Fred said he couldn’t do this anymore? What if he didn’t want to continue?”
MM: I never thought that that would happen, and I do want to say that I’m so proud of Fred for being able to make that determination and do what was necessary to get himself in a much better place. And he is in such a great place.
I am so proud of him every day. He’s doing a great job. His show sounds better and his life is great and his family is great. I’m just thankful that we were able to come to that point where he made that turn and he did it himself. I never planned for anything other than Fred coming back. I believed in him!
DR: I think a lot of people across radio, regardless of format, recognize that sports can be an expensive endeavor, particularly in a major market, when you have the kind of success that you guys do. When you told Caroline “this is the only Boston station that I want” and you factor in all of the expenses necessary to operate a brand of this magnitude, I imagine it isn’t cheap. Do you ever feel you’re under a microscope or certain things need to happen year in and year out to justify the amount it takes to run a station like The Hub?
MM: I think it’s a rate of return, but you’re right. Sports is expensive. Rights fees and personalities cost a lot. Live morning shows on music stations are expensive. Original compelling content is expensive. It’s not just repurposed content. It’s original programming and that costs money. So the rate of return has to be there.
Fortunately, we have a fabulous sales team and the station works, so it’s a lot easier to generate revenue using a platform that generates results for clients. The math on this station, even though the expenses are extraordinarily high, it works because the clients and partners are there and we do generate strong revenues. The clients come back because the radio station is a powerhouse and it works for them and helps them generate business.
DR: On the subject of math, you have three of the four major play by play partnerships in the city of Boston. You’ve have had all of them for a while too. Are we past the point now where you have to do the risk/reward math whenever these deals come up for renewal?
MM: Play-by-play, really is not a liquidating entity, especially in the days when you’re traveling to all the games. Now, I’d like to get back to being able to travel to away games. Going to Tahoe this weekend was terrific. I mean, it had some ice problems, but it was great. It was great to be able to call live sports live at an outdoor venue.
Maybe some stations do it differently where they actually make money on it, but I think play by play is a loss leader type of situation. It’s essential to the radio station to keep it vibrant and rich and have those teams as part of the fabric of the radio station. What comes with being the flagship station of those teams is you have access to other programming that’s outside of your regular play-by-play windows.
I think it’s an important piece to make the radio station compelling with content and be fully integrated with the local teams. I don’t think it’s ever something that’s going to work on a spreadsheet. If it can liquidate, that’s great. But sometimes it doesn’t liquidate. If you can break even, that’s a win because they don’t always break even.
It’s an important component to programming, you know what I mean? I don’t think we look at our personalities and say, “hey, what’s the rate of return?” It’s an art and a science. And part of this is art.
DR: I think about something like Tom Brady leaving town and the created content it produced in Boston for the better part of a year.
MM: It still does.
DR: Right, so is the payoff there the access you guys have that lets you follow every single step of the process with the Patriots because you are the partner? Or is the payoff to something like that less about what people tune in for with the games and more about what it brings people to hear Toucher and Rich on Monday or Felger & Mazz on Friday leading into the weekend?
MM: I think there’s multiple touch points in a relationship. I don’t look at it as it’s just a payoff. Our relationship with the Patriots is an incredibly important relationship that goes back to the WBCN days. I think BCN was one of the first stations that actually put football on rock radio. It was definitely an early adopter.
The Patriots are a dynasty here. Even if they don’t have a Super Bowl season like this year, people still care about the New England Patriots. It’s in our blood. We want them to win, but even when they don’t win we still love them.
The Kraft organization is incredible. One of the first things I did when we acquired The Sports Hub was extend our relationship far into the future. I added many, many years onto that contract knowing that Tom Brady would never outlast the length of our contract. Even if he stayed and didn’t go to Tampa, it’s still a contract that far exceeds a period of time where Tom would still be playing. I believe in the Patriots. I believe in their organization, and I believe in the Kraft’s. So I went for the long bomb on that one.
DR: Given what we just saw in the Super Bowl, are you confident that the contract length will outlast Tom Brady?
MM:Yes. It’s a loooooong deal!
Besides what it gives us in terms of the content and what it gives us in terms of stature and partnership, it also gives us something for our clients as well. It gives us access. It gives us the ability to entertain them in a luxury box. It’s the opportunity to have them on the field before a game or visit the broadcast booth to feel what a broadcast is like. It allows our major partners to touch, feel and get up close and personal. That kind of access is is gold.
DR: Analyzing your own career for a minute, you’ve ascended to an important position overseeing a group of highly successful brands. But everyone can get better at something. What are some of the things you feel you need to learn still in order to confidently take that last step in your professional life?
MM: I think acquired knowledge just happens. Don’t forget I was in the same building for 25 of 28 years. I took a three year sabbatical early on and went somewhere else, so I was always just a sponge and available if somebody needed something done. Even if it wasn’t in my department. If I could help, I did, and I learned something from that. I think I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve ever come in contact with. They all make you better as you create your jigsaw puzzle of experiences.
A lot of people aspire to someday be a market manager. Well, I always said that I wanted to be the market manager of Kiss 108, but by the time I got to that job, the job had changed and become a lot harder. I wanted the job when a gentleman named John Madison had it, like in the 90s. I think whatever you do to prepare is great, but on the job training is invaluable. Whatever you thought you needed to know, it’s great that you had that as a reserve, but you need to learn more everyday.
For instance, nobody could’ve prepared for April 2020, right? There was no manual. What are you going to do? How are you going to get all your people out of the building by March 16th? How are you going to be able to keep the place running and keep everyone safe while you still have people coming to the studios? And where do you find masks in March? And Purell when there’s a shortage? I thought “Oh my God! I’m going to call a record label, Big Machine, because they have a bar in Nashville that’s changing their vodka distillery into sanitizer. Great!” You know, “Hey, Big Machine, Can I get some of it?”
I think you have to be resourceful. We’re in radio. We know how to put things together with band-aids right?
When all of this started, I just made a list. What do we need? How do I wrap the building in Plexiglas when I have no budget? I learned that we needed MERV filters. I researched (Google is my friend) and figured out how many of them we had to have. Then, when it came to Plexiglas, I looked up the top 10 glass companies in the market. “Everybody gets to call one person, so go get an appointment with somebody to see if they want to be the official glass company of the Sports Hub or whatever. Go figure it out!”
People weren’t spending cash then, so we did a lot of trade. We upgraded a lot of our systems to make the place safer. That’s not something that’s in a “How to be a market manager” manual. That’s something that you just learn by having boots on the street.
DR: That’s something that never had to be in a “how to be a human being manual” until last year.
MM: Right, so you figure out. I didn’t have a manual for how to be safe in the workplace and deal with Covid, so I made one. The on air staff, those were the only people here for a few weeks. They were so used to not seeing anyone that I thought ‘how do I make them feel safe once the sales staff start coming in?’
We’re lean in people by nature. I’m Italian. I hug people. I kiss on the cheek. We had to teach our team how to be lean out people like, “hey, you’re getting too close. You need to move back two more feet.”
Everybody’s figured that out now, a year later, but in the beginning, when they first started coming back in, it was a learning process. In these type of situations, you just have to pay attention to what’s going on, think about what will help your people stay safe while working, and find different ways to get through it. And if need be, write your own manual if one doesn’t exist.
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.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – C.J. Stroud by the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bryce Young by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.