As someone who was very serious about Covid-19 since March 2020, I believe it is time to start sending play-by-play announcers back on the road. While the many professionals who call games are doing a more-than-admirable job, the lack of interaction with players is really starting to get noticeable.
Thanks to vaccinations, it is now time for baseball broadcasters to get back on the road.
In baseball, the media has been back on the field for a little over a month. ROOT Sports Seattle Mariners play-by-play man Dave Sims said the last Seattle homestand he has been going up to players and introduce himself. Players who he has been calling games for, in some cases, more than one season.
“When we first got down on the field, we were basically doing the home games remotely because we couldn’t interact with the players.,” Sims told me Monday when I guest-hosted on 950am KJR radio in Seattle. “It felt like a new chapter of life started last week. ‘Hey man, how are ya?’ I had to introduce myself to the bulk of the guys I met. I think I knew like eight guys on the club because there has been so much turnover.”
According to sources, 10 to 12 teams have either radio or TV traveling at the start of July. In some cases, play-by-play teams are not traveling because the team is under the 85% vaccination threshold set forth by MLB. In other cases, it’s a cost issue. Since profits have been down from airing fewer games last season, there is a financial justification for not spending to travel broadcasters when the games can air from remote locations as they have been during the pandemic.
A Major League Baseball spokesperson told The Athletic, “MLB is supportive of visiting clubs considering and home clubs accommodating visiting RSN announcers broadcasting from the site if requested. With guidelines fluidly changing, we are letting clubs and local rights holders work together to do what works best for them, as all conditions are not the same across the league. MLB is encouraging home clubs to accommodate requests from visiting clubs for booths for announcers. We are continuously evaluating guidelines and are looking to increase access as soon as we get guidance that it’s safe to do so. MLB is letting clubs and local rights holders work together to make arrangements that everyone is comfortable with.”
The NFL is doing things very differently. Talking to some people involved with the NFL broadcasts who wished to not be named, all play-by-play announcers will be in stadiums, just like last year. However, there should be increases in the amount of access broadcasters get.
Baseball is having a hard problem with it. The pace of play is at an all-time slow pace, and the play-by-play announcer is morphing into a talk-show host. The biggest issue is the lack of interaction with players. Sure, a few players and the manager go on Zoom every day, but that is not the heart of journalism.
“Where I can interact with guys and they get reactions off of stuff that is biographic,” Sims added. “’ Hey, tell me your story. What happened last night? Why’d you do this?’ Then, he gets up that night and I can talk about it can fill in all the gaps. Especially when you get those long and slower games.”
In multiple cases, team employees declined to comment on this topic for fear of professional backlash from their respective ballclubs.
Dodgers play-by-play man Joe Davis raised another topic to The Athletic that has lead me to believe it will not go back to the days prior to 2020.
I have written in the past that players do not want to engage with the media as much and have welcomed the distance.
“You know, I’ve heard, ‘Well, the players don’t want the rights holders back on the plane,’” Davis said. “Of course, they don’t, I wouldn’t either. But is that their decision? Or is it team by team? Or is it Major League Baseball? I don’t know the answers to those things. So honestly, it’s been so up and down and all over the place on what has to happen for us to travel, I’ve just kind of stopped thinking about it because it feels like wasted energy at this point.”
When I traveled with teams, the players never tipped me to the idea that they did not want broadcasters on the plane. There has always been an unwritten rule of keeping such adventures out of the public eye.
Still, with social media and clickbait part of the media, players have been putting up walls towards all members of the media, whether they are rightsholders or not.
The problem with that is most rightsholders are veterans in this business, and social media is not their #1 priority. Relationships are. They are lacking with this new distance, and it’s time to bring back road trips.
While I do not want to put pure speculation into this column, all this makes me fearful that some stations and teams are hurting their on-air product for cost-saving reasons. If the announcers are vaccinated, that cannot be the reason given.
What problems do remote broadcasts raise? First of all, if a batter tries to check his swing, the catcher will look at the first or third base umpire to see if he went around. The camera on the road broadcast doesn’t show the umps call, and the broadcaster has no idea if it’s a strike or a ball.
Usually, the cost of travel on team planes is built into the rights contract signed between the parent company of a radio cluster and the team. Last year, stations lost advertising money when only 60 games were played as opposed to 162. This season, they are trying to recoup those losses. Stations are having all sorts of different problems as struggling companies that used to spend advertising money for play-by-play broadcasts are not as free willing. The domino effect is showing that the product is suffering.
To be clear, the broadcasters, both radio, and television are doing a heckuva job in difficult circumstances. Enough of the great play-by-players and analysts are vaccinated.
It is high time to get them back on the road.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.