Every station in every city across America does charity work during the year. Sometimes it is in the form of a remote from a major fundraising event. Sometimes it is an ongoing on-air promotion. The goal is always the same: activate our audience to get involved.
I want to tell you about one of the fundraisers I look forward to every year. If you read my columns regularly, you know how much I love the Shutdown Fullcast. The show is, in theory at least, about college football, but the connection to college football is tangential at best. That is why I like it so much.
Every year, the show rallies its listeners to donate to New American Pathways. The Atlanta-based charity focuses on helping refugees build a new life in the United States in a multitude of ways including job training for adults and tutoring for children.
The idea is simple. You donate money to the cause, but there is a competition aspect to it. You donate in the name of your school and you donate an amount based on a score or state that means something to that team. For instance, this year, my donation amount was based on one of the more absurd moments of the Saban-era in Tuscaloosa.
Holly Anderson keeps and regularly updates the leaderboard so that every year, a winning school can be determined. I have been following the Fullcast and thus the “Charity Bowl” fundraiser, for four years now. The names Michigan and Georgia Tech often end up at the top of the heap.
Spencer Hall, not only one of the hosts of Shutdown Fullcast but also a former employee of New American Pathways, has enjoyed watching the leaderboard aspect create competition and rivalries amongst listeners. It is likely only displays of competitive selflessness that could turn Georgia Tech and Michigan, two schools that have only faced each other once on the football field (A 9-2 Michigan victory in 1934. Hail to the Victors!), into bitter rivals.
“The Georgia Tech/Michigan rivalry is one,” Hall says when I asked about his favorite rivalries the Charity Bowl has created. “Another are schools we’ve arbitrarily grouped together — i.e. everyone versus Harvard (which is a blowout in the direction of everyone,) or the Battle of the Washingtons, i.e. Washington vs. Washington State vs. Washington and Lee vs Washington U of St. Louis. That is the most bizarre simply because of how well the two small schools do, and how truculent they are about it.”
And that friends, is why the Charity Bowl works as well as it does. It taps into the competition that all college football fans love: a chance to prove that my school is better than yours. It also is a direct line to exactly who the listeners of the Shutdown Fullcast are. Yes, we love college football, but we love it because it is such a weird sport made up of pockets of obscure, dumb history that mean the world to one fan base and are likely unknown by others. It is the kind of stupidity that can only be appreciated by those that love the cause of said stupidity.
I reached out to Joe O’Neill to better understand how radio thinks about charity campaigns. The president of 101.7 the Team in Albuquerque told me that he wants to do what will make the beneficiary happy, but understands that need for the audience to be excited about whatever it is that will be executed on air.
“I think if a campaign excites you, it’s a good barometer for whether it will excite your listener,” he told me in an email. “The important thing is the message and how you provide that message to connect to the audience and make it successful.”
Oh, it is also important to note that Hall literally puts his body on the line every year. Michigan has won the Charity Bowl every year of its existence. That means Hall has a lot of Michigan-themed tattoos on his body, including the anime character Totoro with a block M on his belly and what Hall describes as “a gentleman wolverine”.
This year, things were shaken up a bit. Hall, Anderson, and their co-hosts Jason Kirk and Ryan Nanni decided that if the campaign’s overall goal was met, Hall would be shaved completely smooth. It will be a sight to behold since Fullcast fans and SEC Network viewers are used to seeing a Spencer Hall that looks like this.
Hall says the Charity Bowl and those that give have moved past needing a prize for their efforts.
“It used to be about deciding something was at stake, but honestly the most sustainable and compelling thing ended up being people’s enthusiasm for getting really creative with their giving. It’s one thing to pay for an idiot to get a tattoo. It’s another to personalize it, to aim it at a very specific rival or someone, or to come up with your own strange chain of numbers with their own personal value to you. There’s no substitute for someone feeling really invested in something, and watching me get multiple Michigan tattoos — while entertaining — can’t really compete with that feeling.”
Armen Williams is the program director of Sports Radio 610 in Houston. He told me that the key to successful charity campaigns for sports media brands is passion. The more you can tap into, the more successful your fundraising efforts will be.
“The first step is to get involved with a charity that has an impact on a part, if not all, of your target listening audience. You want the charity efforts to appeal to the most amount of listeners in order to see maximum impact that your brand can make,” Williams says. “Secondly, do you have a host(s) that is passionate about the cause? You need one or several individuals to be the voice and drive engagement and interest around the specific need in the community.”
Another aspect that makes the Charity Bowl such a success each year is that New American Pathways embraces it so enthusiastically. The 2021 campaign generated nearly $830,000 over the course of seven days. That is, in part, thanks to NAP making sure people knew what they provided and what the donations would pay for.
O’Neill says it is important to work with a group with that kind of energy if you want a fundraiser to be a true success. If a charity is trusting you to steer the ship, you need them to be your biggest cheerleaders.
“The more you can get them involved, the more invested they become. This ranges from their vision on how it may work, ideas on getting their existing supporters/donors involved, how they are going to support the event with their resources etc.”
While the hosts of Shutdown Fullcast built the Charity Bowl in a way that fits their brand and hits their listeners right where they live (“I love truculence, especially in the name of charity,” Hall says), O’Neill doesn’t always think the branding side of a campaign designed to help out a worthy cause is necessary. The branding that matters to him is the type that reflects the station’s belief that the cause or organization it is worth the air time.
“We brand ourselves heavily in all these type of events because of it’s not REALLY important to you, why would it be important to the listener?” he says.
My favorite thing about the visual aides Holly Anderson provides to the Charity Bowl is looking near the bottom of her spreadsheets to see which schools likely only had one donor come through in their name. That is almost as fun as the RTs Spencer and Holly through out to highlight each fan base’s pettiness.
I asked Hall if any of those donations still stick out in his mind. Has anyone ever donated in the name of something so petty or obscure that he still thinks about it?
It wasn’t pettiness or obscurity. It was a donation recognizing another sport entirely.
“Probably the dude who gave money in the name of ‘Dale Earnhardt.’ Not even ‘Dale Earnhardt University,’ nope, just: ‘Dale Earnhardt.’ Like we were supposed to just get that and let it happen without making him obey the same rules as everyone else.
“Which we did, because yeah, you can give money in Dale Earnhardt’s name, why wouldn’t a sensible person get that?”
The lesson here is pretty simple. Charity is not a waste of a station’s time and resources. It does not have to be something done only out of obligation. Find a partner that trusts you to deliver your audience your way. That is what the Shutdown Fullcast has done with the Charity Bowl and it accounts for a major percentage of New American Pathways’ annual fundraising.
Who is your target demo? What motivates them? What do your hosts get the biggest and best reaction too? Use that info to create something that not only makes a difference for a local charity, but also becomes content your listeners can’t get enough of and can’t get enough of being a part of!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Fowler Knows You Know He Isn’t In Australia
“I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know.”
I can tell you my exact whereabouts when 2015 became 2016 in the Central Time Zone. I was in a media shuttle outside of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas awaiting my transport to the Omni Hotel in Dallas. It was kind of a sad scene, not just because Alabama had picked Michigan State’s bones 36-0. Nope, it was sad when the clock struck midnight and a tired, cracking voice from the back of the bus said, “Happy New Year” with all the excitement of a man facing execution.
I, too, was tired. I had just spent a week doing shows in Dallas and was headed back to Birmingham for a pit stop before flying to Phoenix for what would be an epic Alabama v. Clemson National Championship Game. I am not complaining, mind you, but the thought of the end of the football season being near was very comforting. It’s a bittersweet thought, I love college football, but I also love being home with my family.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler was at Jerry World that night, as well. He had been on my show earlier in the week and we had joked with him about how good he had it; two College Football Playoff games then a flight halfway around the world for the Australian Open. I had bumped into him leaving the stadium that night and we laughed, again, at his good fortune.
As I sat on the bus for the saddest of New Year’s celebrations, I reflected on the conversation with Fowler and thought about how overwhelming that travel seemed. I could never have imagined then that type of travel assignment would one day become a luxury rather than a necessity.
There are numerous things COVID ended. Many of them were more important than announcing crews actually at the events, but that was one casualty. It has even continued to impact the top level crews like Fowler and John McEnroe who did their 2023 Australian Open work a world away in Bristol, Connecticut.
The fact that the majority of ESPN talent was actually stateside had already been painfully obvious to anyone watching. The studio show had made no effort to hide that fact but the actual match announcers were part of a little more of an attempt to appear they were Down Under. It was abundantly clear, though, that the match announcers were simply standing in front of images of the Melbourne stadiums superimposed behind them.
It was Chris Fowler who finally revealed the man behind the curtain when he removed the mystery and made it clear they were not in Australia. After Darren Cahill, who was actually on site, relayed the weather conditions to Fowler and McEnroe, Fowler commented that the Bristol weather was in the 30’s.
I applaud Fowler for not playing the game and allowing even a hint of the illusion he was in Australia. I think the viewer deserves to know. I also think most viewers have seen enough of the low-energy, disjointed remote announcing that they can spot it without being informed. Thankfully, Fowler and McEnroe are pros enough (and in the same room) that they can still do their job well from 10,000 miles away.
I just can’t believe we are still playing this game in 2023. I think history will show that, in many cases, remote broadcasts were unnecessary in 2020 but that was a complete unknown at the time. One has to assume the desire to save on travel expenses is a large motivation in 2023. I can only imagine how much is saved by ESPN in airfare and lodging by keeping announcers in Bristol rather than sending them to Melbourne. Tennis is also one of the sports in which the difference isn’t as noticeable.
The feedback I get from the fans in other sports, where remote announcers are far more noticeable, is that the network clearly doesn’t value my team or me as a fan. While that may not be true, if that perception is held by a large enough group of fans, it becomes true. What the networks know is this: we are addicted to our teams. They can have bad announcers from their living rooms but what am I going to do about it? I get a limited number of times to watch my team each season. I’m not missing that chance because a network wants to squeeze dimes.
As most people have learned more about COVID, most unnecessary precautions have faded away. Remote announcers have been tougher to extinguish and may never go away entirely.
In the meantime, I’m rested now and I’ll take that trip to Australia anytime someone is ready to send me.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.