Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. 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.
Coaches & News Conferences Don’t Have To Be So Boring
“It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring.”
I couldn’t possibly count how many news conferences I have watched or attended in my career. It would be like counting each individual pine tree you pass while driving a two lane country road. Eventually, every tree and news conference looks the same. You would just end up losing count and interest.
Most news conferences contain ten times the recommended daily amount of cliches and safe answers. There’s the occasional oasis in the desert of “one game at a time” answers that restores faith in the existence of a non-cookie cutter news conference. Often, those hopes are quickly reeled back in by the coach that would rather have his teeth pulled out one by one than show even an iota of personality in an answer.
I get that the purpose of a news conference is to get the answers to the pertinent questions facing a coach or his team at that given moment. The view inside a news conference that the general public is given is rare. It is like a live look-in at the accounting firm’s weekly staff meeting (and, often just as exciting).
It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring. The fan of the team gets to see how the quote of their coach is edited down from the 90 second soliloquy to the 20 second “money quote”.
Here’s the thing; there is no law mandating every question has to be the boring, run of the mill roster spot question. The reason they are is that most of these news conferences are a race against time by media members that cover the team on a daily basis to gather as much information as possible. It is a race against time because the head coach will not stand at the podium all day. He’d rather be anywhere else.
It is in that environment that a member of the media risks raising the ire of their colleagues by asking a coach if they could be one movie character in all of history, who would they choose? Can you imagine Bill Belichick, unlikely as it may be, explaining why he’d choose to be Michale Corleone from The Godfather? Instead, he is mumbling a non-answer on any variety of positional battles in Patriots practice.
Last week in the news conferences leading up to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament game against Providence, Wildcats coach John Calipari was asked about not taking the North Carolina State job because of bad Raleigh, North Carolina pizza. The story, originally told by former Calipari assistant Josh Pastner, was relayed by WSJS’s Josh Graham. The ensuing answer, far from a knee slapper, showed some personality from Calipari. He informed the reporter the pizza was from Mellow Mushroom and it was not why he passed on the Wolfpack.
Calipari is a guy not afraid to show a little personality, in fact, he is a very big personality. It is not uncommon to see a news conference clip from him that is beyond the normally mind numbing coach speak. This is the guy that had a press conference interrupted once by Temple coach John Chaney trying to fist fight him. It would be nice to randomly see that from other coaches across sports.
Imagine if we discovered most coaches were actually funny people who didn’t mind not being robots 24/7? It would be like dropping a rock in your driveway only to have it break into pieces revealing gold dust on the inside. We could inadvertently stumble into a whole new realm of news conferences. I mean, the breakdown down of the two deep at the offensive guard spots might not get discussed in excruciating detail but, maybe, we find Andy Reid’s go to burger patty seasoning.
What we may discover is that our audience actually likes that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean Reid, or any other coach, never gets to tell us it is one week at a time and they’ve moved on from last week’s game. There will be plenty of that kind of talk, it is in their DNA. We could only hope the fun stuff gets seasoned in.
It will take a member of the media that doesn’t mind ruffling the feathers of some of the old school writers who wear mustard stained shirts and Sansabelt slacks. Those guys devour the coach speak of the week one two deep. They’ll ostracize the media member who “doesn’t take this seriously enough”. Deep down inside, though, I think they’ll give it a laugh, heck they may even use it in their content. When that day comes, you’ll thank me for this idea. Then you can go right back to the battle for the back-up spot at the left corner.
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.
RSNs’ Demise Could Make Baseball Even Less Competitive
How many fans would have to buy a $20/month package to equal $60 million/year in local TV revenue?
Baseball fans should consider being careful what they wish for regarding the seemingly inevitable demise of regional sports networks (RSNs).
Yes, Diamond Sports Group’s recent filing for bankruptcy puts the television broadcast agreements that Bally Sports Networks have with 14 Major League Baseball teams in possible jeopardy. Many fans of those 14 clubs — which include the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins — are hoping this development frees up local TV rights to be picked up by a streaming platform.
Currently, fans in those 14 markets who cut the cord with cable and satellite providers have been unable to watch their favorite teams locally because of Diamond’s failure to work out carriage deals with popular streaming outlets like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV. And many of them aren’t interested in subscribing to Bally Sports’ own streaming package for $19.99 per month. Especially if they just want to watch baseball for six months and have no use for local NBA and NHL coverage. (A few of those markets don’t have a local NBA or NHL team, either.)
Amid the bankruptcy proceedings, Diamond is attempting to get out of broadcast agreements with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, and Cleveland Guardians. Those four clubs cost Diamond more in rights fees than they generate in cable contracts and ad revenues. MLB intends to pick up the broadcast packages for those teams and stream those games for free if that happens.
Fans of the other 10 teams tied to Bally Sports deals are hoping for a similar outcome. Though that would be highly unlikely, Diamond apparently is not close to an agreement with MLB that would help the company get out of bankruptcy, as it has with the NBA and NHL. Furthermore, Diamond is arguing that MLB has no interest in such a deal, preferring to take back streaming rights for those 14 teams.
Yet would that really be the best development for MLB in terms of competitive balance? Baseball has long struggled with a significant financial disparity between large-market teams and those in mid-sized or small markets. According to Spotrac, the New York Mets will have the highest payroll for the 2023 season at $355 million. At the very bottom of the league, the Oakland Athletics’ payroll is a fraction (11 percent, to be exact) of the Mets’ at $40 million.
But the gap between teams playing in large media markets (and thus getting significant revenue from local TV contracts) versus small market clubs is nearly as vast. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly earn $239 million per year from their local TV contract, while the Pittsburgh Pirates get $60 million.
The Pirates are also one of three MLB teams who have a TV deal with AT&T SportsNet. Warner Bros. Discovery recently announced its intentions to transfer ownership of those RSNs to their respective teams and leagues. If a deal can’t be made, WBD will likely enter bankruptcy proceedings for the RSNs. So add the Pirates, Colorado Rockies, and Houston Astros to the team whose local broadcasts could be taken over by MLB.
But would the Pirates still get $60 million in local TV revenue under such an arrangement? Teams with local cable contracts were able to draw enormous fees by being part of a larger overall package in which even non-sports fans were paying fees for RSNs.
However, if these networks are no longer part of a cable bundle, can their broadcasts come anywhere close to matching those revenues from streaming packages? As The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis asked on The Press Box podcast, how many Pirates fans would have to pay $20 a month (or more) to generate $60 million per year? Even if RSNs began to feature sports betting broadcasts, would that draw enough revenue to make up the shortfall?
The Pirates aren’t competitive as it is, finishing last in the National League Central division in 2022 with a 62-100 record (31 games behind the first-place Cardinals). Pittsburgh also had the lowest payroll in the NL at $59 million. How does taking away $60 million — which essentially covers the Pirates’ player payroll — improve any chance of contending?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Wall Street Journal, “I think we can get into a mode where we are better able to say to fans: You can watch baseball on whatever platform you want to watch it.”
Manfred and MLB will also have to address the sport’s restrictive local market blackout rules to make game broadcasts as accessible as the commissioner envisions. Many baseball fans and observers likely know that Iowa, for example, is blacked out from six teams (Cubs, Twins, Brewers, White Sox, Royals, and Cardinals) locally. An MLB.TV subscription isn’t of much use in that region.
Reportedly, MLB is working on that very goal. But current TV contracts and local media rights deals create a ball of yarn that could take years to untangle. In the meantime, baseball’s elite teams could separate themselves even further from those less fortunate — or without lucrative local TV rights deals.
Having local broadcasts liberated from RSNs sounds appealing to fans who ditched cable and currently can’t watch their teams on streaming platforms. But losing those revenues could prevent their favorite teams from funding competitive — or even respectable — payrolls. Be careful what you wish for, baseball fans. The team you get to watch may not be nearly as good.
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 email@example.com.
Disney Has One Logical Choice For The Future – Jimmy Pitaro
“If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.”
Bob Iger’s latest tenure atop the Walt Disney Company fascinates me. The company begged him to come back to clean up the mess made by his handpicked successor, but it was made clear from the get-go that he has a very limited window to get this right and then go home. That is why, less than six months after Iger returned to Burbank, we are already hearing about who will be the next CEO of Disney.
There is reportedly a shortlist of candidates for the job and it is sports-heavy. Two of the four spots are occupied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. I see the value both men could bring to the job, but I think there is a clear frontrunner and obvious choice.
Jimmy Pitaro is already inside the Disney walls. He has already learned to operate within the Disney hierarchy. He has had to answer investors’ tough questions about budget and direction. If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.
Adam Silver’s tenure as NBA Commissioner is the target of all sorts of criticism, mostly from people that don’t watch the NBA anyway. For all of the pissing and moaning about load management and player empowerment, people are still watching and the league is still as profitable as ever. By the metrics that matter to the people that matter (team owners), he is doing an excellent job.
On a recent episode of Meadowlark Media’s Sports Business, John Skipper made it clear that he loves Silver and thinks he would make an excellent CEO for the Walt Disney Company, but that is a totally different world from the one Silver is currently thriving in.
“My advice would be to stay at the NBA,” the Meadowlark Media boss said. “It’s not a public company. You don’t have to face shareholders. You do have to face 30 NBA owners, but you don’t have activist shareholders. And I think Adam is a committed NBA commissioner. He’s been for a long time.”
The public posturing of Ron DeSantis will always get attention, but it doesn’t always have to be taken seriously. The moment he threatened to dissolve the special district in Central Florida that Walt Disney World operates out of, legal scholars were quick to point out that the proposal would create a major burden on the state and its citizens that no politician wants to be responsible for.
DeSantis wanted his culture war. Disney wanted the problem to go away. The two sides quietly found a compromise that made it look like the governor didn’t lose while Disney got to go on basically with business as usual. That is the kind of corporate policy war whoever takes over for Bob Iger will have to be ready to wage.
Disney needs a salvager in that chair, someone who knows how to diagnose the problems of business relationships and find fixes that hurt each side just enough that both can say the other really took it on the chin. Pitaro is that guy.
Look at ESPN’s relationship with the NFL when he arrived versus where it is now. The company needs someone that makes stars and creators feel like this company is one that it can trust and one that they want to be in business with. Look at what Pitaro has done to bring the Manning Brothers, Pat McAfee, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman under the Disney umbrella while simultaneously finding ways to keep stars like Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones happy with non-exclusive deals that allow them to grow their profile with new opportunities outside of the company walls.
Most importantly, no segment of the Walt Disney Company and arguably, no network on basic cable, has had to answer as many questions about the future of distribution as often as ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro has been asked about a future where entertainment is driven solely by the needs of the audience so many times that he has undoubtedly thought about the ups and downs of the streaming landscape more than just about anyone else on Earth.
Bob Iger will be atop Disney through the end of the year and into 2024. This isn’t a decision that is being made tomorrow. Even when it is made, Iger doesn’t just get to write a name down on a piece of paper, slam down an “APPROVED” stamp and go home.
Everyone on that reported shortlist will be vetted by Iger, his confidants, members of the Disney board, and shareholders. Some may wince at the fact they have no idea how Jimmy Pitaro envisions running theme parks and a cruise line, but the reality is that no one checks all the boxes for any job as big as this one until they have been in it for a while.
When you know the perfect fit for a job doesn’t exist, you go looking for the person that is the best fit. I think Bob Iger and Disney have already found him in Bristol, CT.
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.