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5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives tweets from burner accounts belonging to media people.

Jay Mariotti

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THEY GET IT

Steve Kornacki, NBC — What began as a gimmick — let the Election Night “chart-throb’’ wear his Gap slacks and make sports picks — has rocketed into a full-scale credibility explosion. As the media industry plunges into the legal gambling craze, we know of at least one expert tout in Kornacki, who followed his NFL playoff successes as the only NBC prognosticator to nail the Kentucky Derby winner — 12-1 shot Medina Spirit — while 10 others were whiffing. Here was his pre-race rationale: “I scoured the board. I have 11 different theories, but here’s one: Bob Baffert, six-time Kentucky Derby winner, has a horse that can get at or near the front of this race and has double-digit odds. I can’t have my King Fury. I’ll take a shot on Baffert at 12-1, Medina Spirit.” Why would I buy a subscription to the Action Network or Vegas Stats & Information Network when Stevie Khakis provides winners for free? Damn, I just gave his bosses an idea: Kornacki subscriptions. Hope his agent has snagged him a big raise.

Nicole Auerbach, The Athletic — Why not grant parole to a serial killer? That was the approximate reaction in the collegiate sports community when NCAA president Mark Emmert, maybe the most inept in a long conga line of shoddy sports administrators, was given a two-year extension by the university presidents who’ve reaped mega-millions from his reign. Auerbach had worked hard to extricate him from office, reporting that more than two dozen Division I commissioners and athletic directors believed “Emmert’s tenure should end.’’ She was left to conclude: “This is the face that the NCAA’s highest governing body wants as its representative. It is not who athletic directors would choose. It is not who commissioners would choose. It is not who athletes themselves would choose. But in a system designed to stagnate, he was apparently the only viable option — which says more about the system than it does about Emmert himself. And that is what those who claim to love college sports will have to live with.’’ On a beat of toxic excess, Auerbach and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde continue to be the foremost must-reads.

Social media boycotters — The U.S. sports industry would be much happier and healthier if it adopted the bold lead of the English Premier League: Snub Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like. Shocking as it seems — think of the cold-turkey withdrawal, the gaping holes in the collective consciousness — the soccer league decided social media didn’t exist from Friday afternoon through Monday night … and survived just fine. Events have been messy there lately, from ongoing racist abuse of players to protests of American-based owners who failed spectacularly in trying to form a superleague. So, clubs and players pressured the companies by shutting them down, joined in silence by English sports such as cricket, rugby, tennis and horse racing. The men in white coats would have to put LeBron James in a straitjacket without his device, but as I always say, don’t let other tweeters’ problems become yours. A vacation from the Internet might be better than Bali at this point.

Mike Tirico, Bob Baffert, Bill Belichick — Before the Kentucky Derby, the trio shared a chat based on mutual admiration between Baffert and Belichick, both multiple winners of the premier events in their sports. Was I the only one who noticed how all three have survived major professional scandals? In scrubbing what went wrong, they must be doing something right, though none should be proud. Obviously, there was no mention of missteps as they laughed through the NBC interview. Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing …

Trevor Lawrence, professional — From the journalists who still exist in this business, here’s a thank you for putting a media charlatan in his place. On his first day in Duval County as would-be savior of the Jaguars — why does no one call it Jacksonville anymore? — the No. 1 overall pick deftly handled a hokey request by the NFL Network’s James Palmer. Armed with a football, Palmer said, “I want to catch the first pass you ever throw as an NFL player. What do you think, you ready?’’ Not knowing James Palmer from Jesse Palmer, Arnold Palmer or the Robert Palmer who sang “Addicted To Love’’ in front of android-like female models, Lawrence rejected the awkward ask and didn’t throw the ball, saying, “I don’t know, man. I think I’m going to save it for some of my new teammates.’’ What motivates working reporters to act like fanboys? Closer to the point, who hires them on the network level?

FoxSports.com — I’m still not convinced this site wants to compete in the highest reaches of sports content trafficking, recalling Fox’s various starts and stops in the website game. But this caught my attention: Pedro Moura left The Athletic, where he covered the Dodgers as a senior writer, to become national baseball writer at Fox. With The Athletic possibly headed for mass layoffs and strategy changes — such as emphasizing national coverage and minimizing (or dumping) local content — will we see more defections? Fox could use stronger commentary and enterprise components to offset its fan-heavy approach to live events and its ineffective debate shows. “We’re lucky to have him,’’ said the site’s managing editor, Kevin Jackson, who once had memorable fun as founding editor of Page 2 at ESPN.com. He’ll need big names before climbing into the daily Octagon — former ESPN personalty Trey Wingo hosted a draft party, I see — but Fox has the money to keep poaching, even after wasting $32 million on Skip Bayless. Should I just change the name of this column to Six Who Get It, Six Who Don’t?

THEY DON’T GET IT

Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals owner — A tech mogul from way back, Leonsis should be the first to grasp the built-in responsibilities of a team’s social media account. It’s wretched enough that he allows Tom Wilson, the sickest of NHL thugs, to remain on the payroll. But after his double-jeopardy goonery the other night — sucker-punching the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich, then appearing to grab Artemi Panerin’s hair while hurling him to the ice — Wilson’s criminal activity was celebrated by the Capitals’ social media site. “atCapitals chooses: Violence,’’ went the tweet, beside a photo of Wilson and a cryptic comment that he lives “rent-free’’ in the minds of others as “the best goal scorer in the league.’’ The tweet quickly was deleted, but the screenshots remain interminably while Leonsis ponders this question: Why would a sports franchise, worth three-quarters of a billion dollars, put creeps and losers in charge of its public image? Maybe because the NHL culture is enabled by a wishy-washy league office, which has suspended Wilson five times in eight years — including a seven-game ban in March — yet this time issued only a $5,000 fine, the most the players’ union allows via the collective bargaining agreement. Leonsis should lock Wilson and the guilty tweeter in the same rubberized room for a week, if not permanently.

ESPN — So here was a serious news story, building for two seasons: The electronic-sign-stealing, trash-can-banging Astros returning to the Bronx to catch hell from enraged Yankees fans. And how did ESPN handle the telecast? With play-by-play man Karl Ravech dressed as Luke Skywalker, analyst Tim Kurkjian as Yoda, analyst Eduardo Perez as a Jawa and host Steve Levy in the studio as Darth Vader. See, it was “May the fourth’’ — a nod to the “Star Wars’’ franchise — and nothing was getting in the way of Disney Company synergy. ESPN insists on cartooning-up sports events, even those with violent potential, with cross-promotional silliness. And this time, unlike the alternate NBA all-gambling broadcast and a Marvel-themed NBA cast, the schlock was on the blowtorch feed. Had a riot broken out, Ravech would have looked all-time-ridiculous as he reported the details. Apparently, I’ll have to keep cutting-and-pasting my thoughts of recent weeks: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. Meaning, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet.

Terry Bradshaw, Fox Sports — The appropriate response is to feel pity for Bradshaw more than disgust, knowing he was hit in the head quite often in his playing days. His crackling take on malcontent Aaron Rodgers, who is trying to politicize his way out of Green Bay, was noteworthy if not for one not-so-small detail: Bradshaw carried out a similar drama in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. This week on WFAN, Bradshaw said of Rodgers, “Him being upset shows me just how weak he is. Who the hell cares who you draft? I mean, he’s a three-time MVP and he’s worried about who they drafted last year No. 1? … Let him cry. Retire. You’re 38. Go ahead and retire. See you later.’’ If Bradshaw is familiar with a trove known as a newspaper archive, he might want to scroll back to 1984, when he ripped Steelers coach Chuck Noll for acquiring David Woodley from Miami. After hearing Noll express concern about Bradshaw’s injured elbow, Bradshaw shot back, “If he wants opinions, he ought to call me and ask me and stop making all these comments. He ought to just keep his mouth shut and pay attention to the draft and not make statements about me until he’s absolutely certain what he’s saying.’’ Such a hazy disconnect doesn’t bode well for Bradshaw’s long-term future at Fox, which should be pondering changes in a studio-show lineup that is showing wear and tear … and amnesia.

The Undefeated, ESPN — As long as media companies spin off websites to reflect racial divisions, we won’t progress as a society. I’ve never understood why The Undefeated explores “the intersection of sports, race and culture’’ with a predominantly Black staff when such a cultural convergence could be examined more effectively by a diverse group of writers and editors. I can just hear the “Mariotti is a racist’’ nonsense, but I’d rather unite than divide. ESPN missed an opportunity to merge its editorial initiatives when editor-in-chief Kevin Merida left this week to become executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, which, like many legacy news operations, struggles with a lame digital product. Merida quickly was replaced by Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s managing editor, which means the site will continue on a private island that should be affixed to a larger continent.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN — I knew Greenberg long before Roger Goodell was calling him “Greeny,’’ back when we covered the Jordan dynasty years in Chicago. He has the mind to be Bob Costas, but I fear ESPN has turned him into another mush-and-gusher thrilled to be in the anchor seat. I was shocked to see him profusely thank the NFL commissioner for allowing him to host the Draft, which only reinforced the naked truth: ESPN is beholden to the league for a new 11-year rights deal that places Disney in the Super Bowl rotation. If Greenberg slobbered over Goodell any longer, I’d have suggested he get a room. Then he proceeded to shriek at high decibels about Kings of Leon, who jammed on stage for a half-hour when America just wanted the damned draft picks. Rich Eisen and Rece Davis were the Kings of Lake Erie. Greeny did too many greenies.

Max Kellerman, ESPN — I don’t see skin color. Kellerman does, shaming himself and his network with concerns before the NFL Draft that the stock of White quarterbacks was rising as the status of Black quarterbacks was falling — and that it has been happening for years, as if premeditated. “That’s why my antenna are up when I notice one, two and three this year — White guy, White guy, White guy,’’ said the “First Take’’ opinionist. Well, the third “White guy’’ turned out to be Trey Lance, who is Black, and the quarterback who dropped farthest in the first round was Mac Jones, who is White. Kellerman is one of these protected morning hosts who aren’t held accountable for outrageous and/or inaccurate takes. The audience does keep score, ESPN should know.

Richard Deitsch, The Athletic — I critique media as a weekly passion project, having performed the same gig out of college in Detroit. The job is aligned with the responsibilities of a movie critic or restaurant critic — you praise and pillory, based on honest and independent appraisals — and some sports media writers do it well, bringing heat with equal parts approval and disapproval. Deitsch broke down the NFL Draft by calling the lead production bosses, Disney’s Seth Markman and NFL Network’s Charlie Yook, and letting them extol the efforts of their respective crews in Cleveland. If sports was covered this way, we’d let managers and coaches write flowery stories and temper our personal assessments. It’s time Deitsch consider a beat change, as he wearily reminds us too often of his lengthy run covering sports media. I’ll give him this much: He counts better than I do, because Five Who Don’t Get It became Seven Who Don’t Get It. I could do nine or 10 this week, but, like John Lennon, I’ve got blisters on my fingers.

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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