Jay Bilas Is Continually Compelled By College Basketball
Studying to attain a law degree is an intensive task that requires commitment and dedication, along with having an erudite understanding of different types of law and standards of litigation. Completing law school is usually laborious for most students since the occupation involves meticulous preparation and the application of knowledge into real-world situations pertaining to intricacies such as burdens of proof, depositions and arraignments. Of course, the job of an attorney is to represent a plaintiff or a defendant and advocate on their behalf, and while much of their time is spent in offices and courtrooms, some have given broadcasting a try. It is fair to consider Jay Bilas a part of that group, specializing in commercial litigation and all things college hoops.
History scholars are surely cognizant of a maxim authored by former Pennsylvania governor and American pantologist Benjamin Franklin which states, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It is evident that preparedness is paradigmatic in effectuating a greater chance at success, mitigating ostensible roadblocks before they occur. Bilas, through his law training, was taught methods of preparing for cases and today is of counsel at the law firm Moore & Van Allen.
Working as a lawyer, however, is not Bilas’ full-time job. That would be working for ESPN as one of its top college basketball commentators, providing analysis of players and teams both on studio programming and courtside for select matchups. His journey in sports media, unconventional in and of itself, kept him around the game he has fervently scrutinized in a variety of roles. It has afforded him a chance to disseminate his esoteric perspectives on the sport based on his previous experience – voluminous and stratified – along with his means of interpretation.
“I’ve learned about the game since I’ve played it and since I was an assistant coach,” Bilas said. “That’s been one of the great things about this job. If I had stayed as an assistant and had [my] own program at some point, I probably wouldn’t know as much about the game as I feel like I know now.”
Indeed, Bilas has been present around several accomplished college basketball programs through his role at ESPN, something that would not have been possible had he remained a member of the Duke University Blue Devils men’s basketball team’s coaching staff.
Led by head coach Mike Krzyzewski for 42 seasons, the team won five national championships and qualified for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament 36 times, posting an overall record of 97-30 and 13 appearances in the Final Four. Krzyzewski, an undisputed savant of the game, recruited Bilas to play for the team as one of the top high school basketball prospects in the country.
Before Bilas considered institutions in which to matriculate, he participated in an interview with a local media outlet where he expressed an interest in broadcasting after playing basketball. In his youth, his mother encouraged him to try a variety of different activities, including various debate courses and competing in ballroom dancing, shaping him into a multifaceted, avant-garde recruit with recognizance in many different subject matters.
Interested basketball programs took notice and made sure that they introduced Bilas to executives in their communication departments during his visits, giving him a more comprehensive understanding of interacting with the media. During his visit to Duke University, Krzyzewski introduced Bilas to Chuck Howard, an 11-time Emmy-winning producer with ABC Sports and pioneer in sports broadcasting.
In the end, Bilas had a decision to make between playing for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes; the Syracuse University Orange; the University of Kansas Jayhawks; or the Duke University Blue Devils. Shortly thereafter, he found himself packing his bags to travel from his hometown of Los Angeles to Durham, N.C. and immersing himself in its system and the shrewd intellect of Krzyzewski.
On top of that, his conversation with Howard led to Bilas landing a job with ABC Sports during the summers as a runner where he assisted in the production of signature events. Some of these spectacles included the 1983 PGA Championship, the 1984 Summer Olympics (held in Los Angeles) and Monday Night Baseball broadcasts featuring premier voices of “America’s Pastime.”
“It just kind of got me interested in it,” Bilas said, “and I just sort of pursued it, I guess, from there…. “I think [that for] anybody who gets into this kind of thing, you’re always thinking, ‘Well, can I do this? Is this something I should do?’ Chuck was very positive all the time.”
Bilas was a four-year starter under Krzyzewski and faced off against difficult opponents, most notably the University of North Carolina Tar Heels featuring a dynamic guard by the name of Michael Jordan. After winning the NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship in 1982, “His Airness” proceeded to win six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and is referred to by many basketball pundits as the greatest player of all time.
He also was a two-time participant in the Olympic Games including in 1984 before his NBA debut, meaning that Bilas covered him when working for ABC Sports. He and the Blue Devils had ended Jordan’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) career just a few months earlier in an epic 77-75 upset, but it was one of the few games Bilas did not start because of an injury he had sustained three days earlier.
As a member of one of the highest-scoring college basketball recruiting classes ever assembled – which featured Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Johnny Dawkins in addition to Bilas – the team developed and made it all the way to the 1986 NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship game. Although Duke was defeated 72-69 by the University of Louisville Cardinals, the team helped set the foundation in place for the program to thrive in forthcoming seasons.
Upon graduating Duke University with a degree in political science, Bilas was drafted to the National Basketball Association in the fifth round by the Dallas Mavericks; however, he never played an NBA game. After some time playing professionally in Italy and Spain, Bilas returned to Duke University where he served as an assistant coach on the basketball team and worked to earn a law degree. Having served as a player and a coach, Bilas has utilized these experiences to handle and implement feedback from media bosses over his time in the industry, rounding him into a bonafide professional and adept colleague.
“You welcome feedback because it lets you know what other people think and people whose opinions you really value and whose judgments you value, and you act on it, especially when it’s right and reasonable,” Bilas said.
“When you get criticism – constructive or otherwise – you have to ask yourself [first] if it’s right, and if it’s right you need to deal with it. Second, if it’s reasonable, and if it’s reasonable, you need to consider it carefully; if it’s unreasonable, you just dismiss it. I’m not saying that’s what you do with your bosses because anything you get from your bosses is going to be reasonable.”
With this year’s tournament having been the first Final Four without a qualifying No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed – and busting all brackets in the process (there is approximately a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of compiling a perfect bracket) – it was an intriguing watch for college basketball fans. Bilas was part of ESPN’s coverage live from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on College GameDay and called the semifinal matchup between the University of Connecticut Huskies and University of Miami Hurricanes alongside Brian Custer on ESPN’s international feed, syndicated to over 180 countries worldwide.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all event, but it’s as compelling a sporting event as I’ve ever watched and certainly that I’ve ever been a part of,” Bilas said. “I think there’s something special about having played in it, and [having] a role as an assistant coach and then having a role as a broadcaster. You’ve seen it from a lot of different angles – and before all that, I consumed it as a fan. I was the same kind of kid that watched it and dreamed of doing that someday, so there’s a dream aspect to it that’s really cool, and it’s something you have a hard time putting it into words.”
When it comes to sharing his opinions of college basketball, Bilas has worked at the craft of broadcasting to divulge compendious insights and viewpoints to viewers. Having that ability came in part because of his experience following, playing and coaching basketball, along with his abilities as a lawyer. Yet part of what makes Bilas a versatile broadcaster and the recipient of numerous industry honors, including the Curt Gowdy Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, is by starting his sports media career in radio.
Less than a year after Bilas graduated law school and relinquished his duties as an assistant coach, he was offered a chance to work with Bob Harris on the Duke Radio Network as a color commentator for basketball games. He was hesitant about making the jump because he knew it would make it difficult to regularly practice law, but was urged to do so by legendary play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg, whom he met while in college.
“He felt like it was really good training,” said Bilas regarding Enberg’s view of radio. “If I remember right, he said, ‘Television is color by numbers, but the real artists are in radio.’ I think starting there really helped me because the play-by-play person is the one that paints the picture.”
Enberg was helpful for Bilas throughout his formative years in the industry, and they ended up working with one another beginning in 2003 covering the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament for CBS Sports.
Over the years working with ESPN and CBS Sports, Bilas has had the good fortune to be paired with play-by-play announcers such as Dan Schulman, Sean McDonough and Brent Musburger, and thoroughly enjoyed his time working with each of them. With Enberg though, the two formed chemistry on the air and a friendly relationship off the air, including one memorable outing to Belmont Abbey College, the place where Al McGuire first coached.
“We spent the whole day there and saw his old office [and] walked around the campus,” Bilas remembered. “He told Al McGuire stories all day. It was just a wonderful day; he was just a very thoughtful human being and very kind. I think that came through with him as a broadcaster.”
Even though he worked with CBS Sports for parts of its March Madness coverage, Bilas has primarily been with ESPN since 1995, causing him to diminish the amount of work he can do as a lawyer. As he assimilated into the network and its coverage of college basketball, Bilas’ abilities to make sense of the action stood out wherefore he earned desirable assignments. In attempting to describe his commentary style, Bilas underscored the importance of being genuine with your audience, ensuring his analysis is precise and any criticism is justified.
“I just kind of say what I see and interpret the game [in] the way I understand it and the way I was trained,” Bilas said. “….Getting inside all these different programs and being in their scouting reports and their practices and their coaches’ meetings over the last 27 years has taught me more about basketball than I think I ever could have learned if I had just stayed on that particular path I was on.”
Amid a typical college basketball broadcast, there are ebbs and flows engendering the accentuation of information and entertainment, along with balancing objectivity and subjectivity. Through this multifarious discourse, consumers in part remain engrossed in the on-air product, although some pundits would argue that the games themselves are the primary drivers of ratings and revenue rather than the commentary.
Even so, listening to a lackluster broadcast booth can foment indignation and displeasure from consumers, sometimes acting as a catalyst for viewers to change the channel.
“I think all of our jobs in this are saying the right thing at the right time in the right tone,” Bilas said. “….There are certain times when somebody may take something the wrong way or not how you intended it. I don’t place that responsibility on the listener. If I didn’t get the point across for them to understand it in the way I intended, that’s on me.”
Occasionally, Bilas will be criticized by viewers for showing bias towards one team, an accusation he considers an example of fans being unreasonable. Game commentary, in essence, is meant to communicate what is happening during a contest.
The broadcast equips statistics, graphics, detailed preparation and quotes from interviews to enhance its storytelling and provide context to moments. National commentators will usually place more attention on the team winning the game and/or discuss what everyone is talking about, maintaining their ethos and objectivity while doing justice to the product on the floor.
“Of course I may have said some nicer things about the team that won than the team that lost; that can happen,” Bilas expressed. “You kind of ask the question sometimes: ‘Which was more biased? My mouth or your ears?’”
Since the launch of College GameDay in 2005, Bilas has been a part of its panel as an analyst, causing him to adjust his approach in presenting information. He affirms that the setting cultivates discussion in less of a granular manner than game commentary, instead expounding on the landscape as a whole.
Additionally, Bilas interviews college basketball players in a segment called “94 Feet” for the show, conversing so viewers can learn more about them away from the court. He also appears on other ESPN studio programming, including Get Up!, SportsCenter and select ESPN Radio programs.
“I’ve always tried to just be conversational with my colleagues in the studio,” Bilas said. “I’m answering the question that a colleague asked and having a discussion with my cohort.”
When he is not calling games or voicing his opinions in the studio, Bilas may be writing a story for ESPN.com. In working to disclose his ideas and thoughts to readers, he believes they last longer because of the means through which they are being delivered. In today’s information-driven era with a dwindling attention span and emphasis on timeliness, possessing an alacrity to serve his audience is critical for him to adequately perform his versatile role.
There are opportunities, however, for Bilas to go into detail about topics, just as he did on the definition of “toughness” in his New York Times bestselling book titled, “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court.”
“In my life as a lawyer, I had to do a lot of writing,” Bilas said. “You try to convey your thoughts in as concise a way as possible. That’s similar to what you try to do on the air when you’re speaking, but I’ve done a lot of writing over the years and I’ve always really enjoyed it.”
When crafting its booth for Thursday Night Football, the management team at Amazon Prime Video made what was perceived by many people to be a questionable decision in pairing Kirk Herbstreit with Al Michaels. Herbstreit, a former player and insightful college football studio analyst and color commentator, worked a total of 49 assignments in the fall – 33 of those being live game commentary and 16 being appearances on College GameDay. By assimilating himself into broadcasts of National Football League games, he brought unique perspectives realized from his time covering players in college that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Moreover, he was able to implement what he observed during NFL games into his college football coverage, better informing viewers on how the game is changing and what the next generation of players needs to do to prepare.
Bilas has called some NBA games throughout his career, but his primary focus is on college basketball. Where a comparison between Herbstreit and Bilas can perhaps be drawn though is in Bilas’ coverage of the NBA Draft on ESPN through which he discusses the intersection between college and professional basketball. Additionally, he talks about the transition period and characteristics of draftees to supply context to the broadcast.
“Most of these players I see in high school – so you cover them when they’re younger and as they develop to the pro level and how they translate to the pro level,” Bilas said. “I’m not necessarily covering the NBA; you’re covering talent being drafted by the NBA.”
Leading up to the 2014-15 college basketball season, Bilas agreed to a contract extension with ESPN that resulted in him being added to ESPN Saturday Primetime telecasts of college basketball games. While he has appeared on the network’s platforms as a color commentator, studio analyst and writer, he is able to promulgate his thoughts regularly through his use of social media platforms.
Over his career, Bilas has been able to amass large followings across several different mediums despite not having a legitimate strategy in terms of creating and sharing content.
Since being purchased by Elon Musk, Twitter has endured a variety of changes, including removing its signature blue verification check marks from accounts that do not subscribe to its new “Twitter Blue” service. The forthcoming change has received plenty of criticism, being loathed by many users who state it will make it difficult to know the legitimacy of Twitter accounts.
Some people are referring to the shift in strategy as an apocalyptic occurrence that will destroy the platform and companies such as ESPN and The New York Times are declining to expense their employees’ subscriptions should they choose to purchase one. In addition, star athletes including Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes have stated that they will decline to pay for verification.
Whether it is sharing opinions on college basketball, posting game highlights and other content or simply tweeting out Young Jeezy lyrics, Bilas uses Twitter in a variety of ways. He declines to engage with many users in the comment sections though, calling it an unhealthy practice, and limits his time on social media to safeguard against the ostensible dangers it presents.
“I don’t think it’s one of my main functions,” Bilas said of social media. “I enjoy it; I’m still trying to figure out some of it.”
When looking at today’s media ecosystem, virtually any user has the ability to select what, when, where and how to consume content, along with being capable of producing their own independent media and amplifying their own voice. Digital platforms have revolutionized the ways information is shared and connections are fostered and maintained among people, precipitating a culture featuring influencers: prominent users online who have built a significant following.
Even before the onset of college athletes being able to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL), they could be considered part of this group; however, their impact has surely been aggrandized since then with marketing and promotional deals to supplement their play.
In the first year of the NCAA allowing NIL deals, college athletes earned an estimated $917 million, with many of the highest earners being women in college basketball. Bilas has been outspoken against the entity’s principle of amateurism, which stated that college athletes participated in sports because of their love of the game, while coaches, executives and administrators profited from annual multibillion dollar earnings. He has expressed how the NCAA spread what has turned out to be a false narrative stating that compensating athletes would hurt women’s sports in order to protect its own interests, in addition to advocating for the educational value associated with building and managing a brand.
Bilas asserts that college athletes have always had a voice, but digital media and NIL have made it where they need not express themselves through traditional media outlets. Instead, athletes are able to instantaneously share how they feel on digital media platforms, whether that be through social media posts, live streams or podcasts. Athletes feel empowered and are arguably more direct towards their legions of fans than ever before, a trend that continues to augment in prominence across various professional sports.
“There’s no downside to this,” Bilas said. “It’s all just one, moderate step toward where athletes are going to be in the future, and that’s being compensated to their fair market value and being allowed the same economic rights as literally everyone else. They’ve never had that, and they still don’t have that.”
As March Madness comes to a close with tonight’s national championship game between the San Diego State University Aztecs and the University of Miami Hurricanes, Bilas legitimately does not have an interest in one team to win a game over another. In fact, he has not had a rooting interest in virtually any college basketball games over the last 30 years – aside from the contests his son, Anthony, played as a member of the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons – depicting objectivity and an inherent absence of bias in his work.
“When I started in broadcasting, that was the first time I had ever gone to a game where I didn’t care who won,” Bilas said. “It’s been 30 years now where I’ve gone to countless games without caring who wins, and that was a different feeling at first.”
Following the conclusion of the college basketball season, Bilas’ contract will expire with ESPN amid an organizational restructuring of The Walt Disney Company under new CEO Bob Iger, which will reportedly result in company-wide layoffs eliminating $5.5 billion in operating costs. The strategy was uncovered ahead of an annual shareholder meeting today where Iger is expected to field questions over his strategy and the company’s involvement in sports media through ESPN.
As part of the restructuring, ESPN is now considered to be its own entity and is being overseen by Jimmy Pitaro, who earned the title of chairman in the process. Since then, Pitaro has established a new executive leadership team which included naming Burke Magnus as president of programming and original content. ESPN veterans such as Norby Williamson, Stephanie Druley and David Roberts report to him in order to foster continued success and innovation pertaining to the network’s programming and future strategy.
Consumers may have a louder voice, but finding an open door into traditional media outlets can, perhaps, be considered more difficult than ever before. When he was young, Bilas received sagacious advice from his father, who operated a television sales and repair business, which stated: “The best way to get a job is [to] do the one you have.” These words encapsulate part of the reason why Bilas remains invested in the moment. He implores young people to do the same, focusing on the journey more than the destination, but being intentional in their actions and how they present themselves to an industry fueled by innovation, hard work and passion.
“I’m not looking beyond what’s in front of me today, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have plans [or that] I [have] never planned anything,” Bilas said. “I don’t think about sort of those kinds of goals and, ‘Accomplish this; accomplish that.’ I just want to accomplish enjoying what I’m doing, and if I do that, whatever opportunity comes my way, I’ll be able to evaluate it in time.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – C.J. Stroud by the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bryce Young by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.