Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who is a programmer in a major market. We were talking about former players that transition into broadcasting, particularly into sports radio.
He said that the reason the overwhelming majority of former players and coaches on air come from football, as opposed to any other sport, is because that is what most people want to know the most about. The value of their knowledge and experience is higher than what a basketball coach or baseball player could offer the audience.
I pushed back, not on that being the reason that football seems to breed the most future broadcasters, but on the idea that their value comes from their knowledge. That kind of thinking is the bedrock of so many forgettable, easily replaceable shows.
Last month, we learned that Tom Brady and FOX had reached a deal that will see the Buccaneers quarterback walk right into the network’s top NFL booth at the end of his playing career. It was a major investment by FOX, which will reportedly shell out $37.5 million per year for a decade.
Almost immediately, the reaction was “What about Drew Brees? Did TV not learn anything from making huge investments in players before they have even been in front of a camera?”.
I have way more faith in Brady and it is for the same reason that I push back on knowledge being what makes an ex-player or coach valuable.
The GOAT may not be the most interesting guy in the world, but we have seen him unafraid to have fun or to be the butt of a joke. We’ve seen him hold an audience’s attention when speaking candidly. It doesn’t happen all the time, but we have seen it!
The only time Drew Brees opened his mouth before joining NBC was to sell Wal-Mart blue jeans or pyramid scheme vitamins.
A bet on Brady is a network seeing building blocks that can be developed into something worthwhile. A bet on Brees was just dumb.
Whether it is TV or radio, our goal in broadcasting is to entertain the audience. John Skipper recently called Charles Barkley the most valuable asset any network in the sports business has.
Why is that true?
There are better X and O analysts of basketball, but no one combines knowledge, fearlessness, and an ability to entertain the way Charles Barkley does. Honestly, he is closer to Stephen A. Smith than any former player on TV. The first-hand knowledge of the game that he can offer is just a bonus.
That is what programmers would benefit from understanding. An athlete or coach turned broadcaster isn’t special because they played the game. They aren’t special for winning at a high level.
The guys that had careers like that before they entered the broadcasting world are lucky. That level of achievement is something many of their peers would kill for. Hell, it is the reason that in some cases, these guys have no peers.
Drew Brees was a five-time all-pro, two-time offensive player of the year, and a Super Bowl Champion. Joe Montana was the league MVP twice and the MVP of three Super Bowls. They both sucked on TV because, at the end of the day, all that matters is how you communicate.
Staffing your station or network with a few former players and coaches does add some credibility. That credibility diminishes though if they have nothing valuable to say.
When we are looking to add those kinds of talents to our stations, we have to look deeper than “can this guy speak clearly?” and “does the audience remember him on the field?”.
Here’s what I want to know when I think about former players and coaches for broadcast positions:
IS THIS PERSON ENTERTAINING?
Do they have charisma? Do they know how to tell a story? How is their comedic timing? Are they comfortable being the punchline?
Honestly, if you don’t get the answer you want to even one of these questions, it is worth asking yourself if you can do better. Sports radio isn’t a university lecture hall. It’s a theater and the performers’ only job is to entertain the audience.
IS THE GUY WILLING TO BE CRITICAL?
I know I am in the minority on Jon Gruden as an analyst, but I thought he always stopped just short of saying anything meaningful while he was the analyst for Monday Night Football. He didn’t want to shut the door on any potential future employment.
Before you agree to pay a guy for talking into the microphone, make sure he has something to say and is willing to say it. He doesn’t have to betray anyone’s confidence, but if he sees a problem on the field, he needs to be willing to say so.
DOES HE DESPISE PEOPLE THAT DIDN’T PLAY THE GAME?
The phrase “if you’ve never had your hand in the dirt” is the dumbest thing any ex-jock can say on radio or television. Imagine being a pediatrician and hating kids. That is no different than a broadcaster, no matter his background, telling his audience he doesn’t want to have a conversation with them.
If you cannot articulate your point in a way someone without your life experience will understand, then you don’t deserve a paycheck for communicating. If you want to do this job and do it well, you have to accept that your loyalty to the locker room is over and your loyalty now is to the audience.
CAN HE MOVE ON FROM THE PAST?
Again, this isn’t a classroom and no one is here for a history lesson. If the guy is good at using his own time on the field or court to explain current players and/or situations, okay. If all he has to offer is story time, then he has nothing to offer.
Plenty of former players and coaches have gone on to be great broadcasters. On radio, does it get much better right now than Pat McAfee? On the local level there’s Dan Dakich in Indianapolis, Brad Thompson in St. Louis, T-Bob Hebert in Baton Rouge, Tom Tolbert in San Francisco, Petros Papadakis in LA and so many more. On TV there is Paul Bissonnette for hockey, Randy Moss for football, Jay Bilas for college basketball, and the entire Inside the NBA crew just to name a few.
Every single one of those guys would still be tremendously entertaining and a valuable addition to any station or network even if they had never played or coached. Why? Because we are in the entertainment business and they can all know how to entertain.
I’ll take that over knowledge as the foundation for a show any day of the week. If it comes with some insight, awesome, but first hand experience is the sizzle, not the steak.
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.