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“If you listen to the top or bottom of the hour at ESPN Radio, you’re going to get the days important news for 24 hours because our anchoring staff is really, really good. And I think that’s important.”
Over the last 22 years at ESPN Radio, a lot has changed. Change is inevitable for every brand and every station, especially over that amount of time. Hosts change. Show line-ups change. The advertisers change. Heck, I still remember when guests called in to ESPN Radio via the Subway Fresh Take Hotline! Over the course of the last 22 years, just about everything at ESPN Radio has changed. Everything that is, except Christine Lisi, who has been providing SportsCenter updates on ESPN Radio every Monday through Friday for those 22 years.
“I got hired in 1995 at ESPN as a production assistant,” she told BSM this week. “I did everything. My last couple years, I worked on NHL Tonight. Then I left briefly and worked in radio in Hartford and I got back to ESPN Radio part-time, and then I just kind of worked my way up. So it’s been a fun ride, you know?”
Lisi provides 18 updates a day Monday-Wednesday, occupying the 10:00 am-6:30 pm timeslot, then provides six updates a day on Thursday and Friday for the 10:00 am-2:30 pm timeslot. The updates are 55 seconds or 70 seconds, depending on the time of day and they always start the familiar SportsCenter music bed, the imaging voice saying “THIS IS SPORTSCENTER” followed by the phrase: “I’m Christine Lisi…”
She’s a master of her craft, trying to cram all the relevant news and soundbites into approximately a minute of air time. She writes her own scripts and will cut her own audio if she thinks it will help her, even after 22 years at the network. She’s almost always trying to look ahead, rather than behind.
“I do write my own scripts and I tend to look ahead unless it’s breaking news. I tend to look forward,” she says.
For example, when we spoke on Tuesday of this week, the big national topic was Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray getting hurt the night before.
“He was injured last night, but I’m spinning it forward to say that today he’s undergoing testing and getting an MRI and the team thinks he has a torn ACL. So I look at it like that.”
Those updates also change constantly throughout the day, depending on what the news of the day is, and Lisi is always ready for her updates to be different than the one that aired previously.
“I write four skeleton scripts or four base updates, and then I will change it throughout the day,” she says. “Like today, there’s a World Cup semi-final so that’ll get worked in. It just depends on what happens that day.
“On a trade deadline day for the four sports, it can be really busy and changing and constantly different. Some of the stuff from my 12:30 update might not be in my 4:30 but it might be, it depends on the news of the day.”
Lisi is constantly aware of what’s happening on the ESPN family of networks. She watches SportsCenter all day long, while listening actively to ESPN Radio. She knows what the hosts are talking about, the opinions of the hosts, and she’s ready to jump in on the air if a host is looking for that.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she says. “Some people bring me in a little bit more than others, but it’s always fun to listen because everybody’s from different parts of the country and they have different rooting interests. So that’s always interesting to hear people’s takes on different stuff.”
Something else has changed over the last 22 years? A lot of local stations are taking out their update features, just assuming that listeners can get that information on their phones. So why have Lisi and her updates remained integral at the national level and survived that way of thinking?
“I think it’s because we give information and I think information is important,” she says. “I know opinions are important too, but I think you know that if you listen to the top or bottom of the hour at ESPN Radio, you’re going to get the days important news for 24 hours because our anchoring staff is really, really good. And I think that’s important.”
“Also, when you’re in your car, you’re not supposed to be on your phone!” she says. “It’s true! That’s a little known fact that I don’t know if people realize. You’re not supposed to be on your phone. So you can get all the news updates and you can get them when you listen to the radio.”
In 22 years, a lot can change – and a lot has changed for ESPN Radio.
But Christine Lisi’s passion, work ethic and importance to the network, have not.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl was a proof-of-concept presentation that the growing media empire can produce top quality game broadcasts, they passed with flying colors.
It always appears to me that whatever Barstool Sports does is divisive. It’s either beloved or completely hated, with hardly any room for a middle ground.
Last week, Barstool Sports televised the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, with Jake Marsh serving as play-by-play announcer alongside Dan “Big Cat” Katz, and Barstool founder Dave Portnoy. The broadcast drew mixed reviews from the Wyoming and Ohio fans that saw their teams participate in the bowl.
In full disclosure, I’d never call myself a “Stoolie”. I’m not a Barstool fan, and I’m not a Barstool hater. They have done some incredible things, like the Barstool Fund to help save small businesses during the pandemic, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable causes during times of tragedy, and from a media aspect, have created some of the finest podcasts in the space. However, they also have had their fair share of foot-in-mouth moments that makes it difficult for an unbiased observer to fully embrace the dude-bro culture of the outlet.
But from my standpoint, the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl broadcast was a smashing success, and any other sports event, series, league, or conference that is or would be struggling for viewers should consider partnering with empire.
The camera shots, graphics, replays, and overall presentation were top notch. Honestly, it was probably better than what ESPN would have provided for a third-tier bowl game. Barstool Sports treated the game like it was the National Championship Game, because to the online outlet, it was. It was a test balloon for them, and they passed with flying colors.
Now, the announcers were where the “mixed reviews” portion came into play. From my standpoint, Marsh was fantastic. He did a great job controlling the broadcast in — at times — a somewhat chaotic environment. Eventually, Big Cat and Davey Pageviews got in the swing of things and realized they needed to let Marsh call the action before trying to interrupt the play with their thoughts.
Katz and Portnoy went back and forth throughout the broadcast with unlimited candor — in true Barstool fashion — about who they were rooting for. Literally, on Wyoming’s first drive with less than two minutes gone in the first quarter, Katz said “I’m a MAC guy, and I’m rooting for Ohio”.
Essentially, the divide is down generational lines. Older viewers and fans were embarrassed that their prestigious, venerable, bastians of higher education would be associated with such a classless presentation. Meanwhile, younger viewers and fans were entertained by the complete lack of usual decorum and the frank broadcast.
Like it or hate it, Wyoming and Ohio playing in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl brought unrivaled reach. Outside of securing the Group of Five spot in the New Years Six bowl games, no other bowl site would have offered those programs more attention than the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl.
And that’s where Major League Baseball comes in. I’m not sure if they’ve noticed, but MLB has seen a Grand Canyon-wide gap expand between the NFL and NBA as the country’s top two sports, with MLB now trailing well behind. We could examine why that is — which is a whole column in itself — but one of the reasons is the stuffy baseball broadcast and lack of reach.
A partnership with Barstool Sports for a weekly broadcast — similar to the YouTube Game of the Week, or the league’s current partnership with AppleTV — helps solve both of these problems. Will fans of the MLB teams participating in the games hate the presentation? In all likelihood, yeah. But the casual fan — the fan that MLB needs to attract more of, and rapidly — is likely to watch the Barstool Sports broadcast and be entertained.
Whether it wants to recognize it or not, baseball’s television broadcast future relies on gambling content as much as it relies upon broad reach. Barstool Sports isn’t going to offer the same reach as ESPN, FOX, or TBS, but it will bring heaps of entertainment, gambling content, and a newfound dedicated fan base.
To its credit, Barstool Sports has created a cult-like following. “Stoolies” will do whatever Portnoy, Big Cat, PFT Commenter, Kevin Clancy, and company tell them to do. And by god, if they say watch Major League Baseball on Barstool.TV, then their fans are going to do it.
If the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl was a proof-of-concept presentation that the growing media empire can produce top quality game broadcasts, they passed with flying colors. Hopefully, other sports leagues and events in need of more attention, notice, and viewers took notice, because Barstool proved they’re a player in the space.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at email@example.com.
“It would be easier to spill your spice cabinet in a mixing bowl and replicate the Coca-Cola recipe than replicate the events that led to Saturday’s semifinal audience.”
The accepted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. One can not accuse the College Football Playoff of insanity. They have tried everything short of arranging the outcomes of games to reclaim their TV ratings from year one. After eight years – and within sight of the end of the current system – they finally got close.
Indulge me for a single paragraph if you know the reason why, If you do not, it is a simple summary: The Rose Bowl. Every third year, when the Rose Bowl hosts a national semifinal, the ratings suddenly spike. This was the year one formula, the Rose hosting semifinal number one and the Sugar Bowl hosting game two just after. It was so successful that it convinced the organizers that it was absolutely necessary to have the two games played back-to-back.
This created an issue. The playoff semifinals could be played on New Year’s Day only once every third year. Few, if any, observers would argue the best spot for the semifinals is anywhere other than on New Year’s Day. It is that belief that made the decision to move the games off that day in the non-Rose Bowl years puzzling. The Rose Bowl is a ratings winner for ESPN. Last year it equaled the audience of the semifinals games from the previous day. Why wouldn’t anyone realize that a semifinal game, followed by the Rose Bowl, followed by semifinal game two would be a massive win for ESPN?
Finally, the planets aligned for the College Football Playoffs and ESPN. They got programs with big national brands playing close games on a New Year’s Eve that happened to fall on a Saturday. It would be easier to spill your spice cabinet in a mixing bowl and replicate the Coca-Cola recipe than replicate the events that led to Saturday’s semifinal audience.
TCU’s thrilling 51-45 Fiesta Bowl win over Michigan drew an audience of 21.4 million viewers on ESPN, the 6th best Semifinal audience ever and 3rd best in the early window. Georgia’s 42-41 Peach Bowl win, just as the ball dropped in Times Square, reached 22.1 million viewers on ESPN. That was the most-watched Semifinal game in the late window since the inaugural year of 2014. It was also a top 20 cable telecast all time.
These numbers are massive wins for ESPN. So is bowl season as a whole. You don’t have to look far to find an old school football fan eager to remind you the bowls don’t have the same meaning they once did.
They aren’t wrong. Bowl games meant more in the archaic system of poll voters selecting the national champion. In those “good old days”, New Year’s Day could roll around with as many as four teams alive for the national championship and none of those teams playing one another.
Bowls used to matter much in the same way the telegraph, newspaper, horse and buggy and oil lamps used to matter. They had their day until we found a better system that made them a little less useful. The BCS was the first system to guarantee the top two teams would play for the championship. The playoffs added two more teams to that mix, each system made the other bowls a little less meaningful.
Even the expanded playoffs will not kill the bowls for one simple reason; people still watch. Don’t believe me? 3.5 million people watched 7-5 Wake Forest beat 6-6 Missouri in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl. That’s roughly 3.4 million more people than know what Gasparilla even means. The only non-NFL live sporting event with a bigger audience that week was the Christmas Day Milwaukee-Boston NBA game. That was one of five NBA Christmas Day games, by the way, the Gasparilla Bowl beat the other four.
Even smaller bowl game audiences, like the 822,000 viewers that watched UAB beat Miami Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl, are the biggest audiences those teams will have all season. As long as bowl games have viable sponsors and this type of viewership, the UAB’s and Miami Ohio’s of the world will gladly accept their invites.
Bowl games have become largely exhibition in their nature. Championships aren’t on the line, players are opting out and coaches have left for other jobs. But people still watch in large numbers because we are a nation that has a football addiction.
People have proven they want to watch bowl games and they do so in large numbers. The networks not giving them as many opportunities as possible to do so would be, well, insanity.
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.
“I want to find a host that I feel like I cannot miss. Right now, FOX Sports Radio has the highest percentage of those guys. CBS Sports Radio has one of those guys. ESPN Radio doesn’t.”
Another change is coming to ESPN Radio’s daytime offerings in the new year. With Bart & Hahn moving back to the local lineup in New York, the network’s 12-3 slot will soon belong to Jason Fitz & Harry Douglas. They are both talented, likable guys. The show could turn into something great. Right now though, it’s a question mark.
The morning lineup will be Keyshawn, JWill and Max in the mornings followed by Greeny. The afternoons will start with Fitz & Harry followed by Canty & Carlin. Daytime prime hours on the network will be filled with a lot of good, talented guys. It includes one of the elder statesmen of national sports talk radio. What it is missing is a flamethrower.
Perhaps you hear that term and think I mean that the network needs someone spouting one hot take after another, waiting for one of them to catch the public’s attention. Being provocative is important, but it is only part of the equation. Think of all the hosts you have heard that define themselves by being “fearless”. A lot of them tend to run together. “Hot take” has become something of a four-letter word to sports fans. I actually have no problem with a great hot take artist, so long as they take the artist part seriously.
That is what a flamethrower is. Sure, they say the kind of things that get your attention, but they do it in a creative way and with regularity. They are the kinds of hosts that you flock to for an opinion on the story everyone has an opinion about.
In the past, ESPN Radio has had its fair share of flamethrowers. The two most prominent have been Colin Cowherd and Stephen A. Smith. They rely on a combination of intelligence and bombast to deliver shows that no one else on the planet can.
ESPN Radio is clearly missing that guy in their new daytime lineup. Frankly, they have been missing that guy ever since Smith decided to end his radio show. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of talent. I just don’t see the show or host that affiliates across the country look at and say “that makes my station stronger!”.
You could argue right now that Mike Greenberg is the centerpiece of the lineup. He is a known commodity. Sports fans can count on a quality broadcast when Greeny is involved, because when it comes to sports knowledge and the Xs and Os of broadcasting, there may be no one on the planet that is better.
Greenberg is right at home on television. He is built to be the star of shows like Get Up and NBA Countdown. He sets the tone and pace for the conversation and then lets Jalen Rose or Rex Ryan hammer it home.
At his core, Mike Greenberg is a point guard, a distributor. That is valuable when you are working with a big cast, but radio shows are supposed to be built around the opinions and personality of their host. Darius Garland is a great basketball player, but the Cavaliers went out and added Donovan Mitchell because they knew that the ceiling was pretty low if they were built around someone who couldn’t take over a game.
Since Colin Cowherd left Bristol to join FOX in 2015, the network has rolled out a lot of different daytime lineups. They’ve been looking for the one that has that juggernaut feel of moving from Mike & Mike to Colin Cowherd to Dan Patrick into Erik Kuselias. One trend that I have noticed in recent years is the guy with the potential to be the network’s flamethrower keeps being put in the spot where he will have the least impact.
Bomani Jones and Will Cain are both incredibly smart guys. They look at topics entirely differently, but both of them are interesting. Jones is as nuanced and quick on his feet as anyone in this business. When Cain thought he was right, he would never back down and stay calm while others tied themselves in knots trying to prove him wrong. Their shows on ESPN Radio were very different products that stirred the emotions of their listeners.
Unfortunatelty, both shows were stuck in the afternoon drive timeslot on the East Coast. In that day part, the majority of the country is turning to local programming. Out West, the markets are smaller and time zones don’t always fit perfectly. The impact of a flamethrower is lessened if his reach is limited to the Casper, Wyoming’s of the world.
I am not confident enough to say that ESPN Radio is doing the same thing again, but as I look at the daytime lineup, I think the guy with the most flamethrower potential is Chris Carlin. And where is his show? In the East Coast afternoon drive slot.
A lot of people in this business choose sides. They are FOX guys or they are ESPN guys. Some of them are gambling guys and loyal to networks like VSiN or BetQL. For me, I just want to be entertained. I will listen to someone that makes me think and react. I want to find a host that I feel like I cannot miss. Right now, FOX Sports Radio has the highest percentage of those guys. CBS Sports Radio has one of those guys. ESPN Radio doesn’t.
The problem extends well beyond Bristol, CT though. FOX’s flamethrowers are Dan Patrick and Colin Cowherd. They are 65 and 58 years old respectively. CBS’s is Jim Rome. He is also 58. At some point, the national networks have to stop making room for flamethrowers and start building some new ones.
Maybe that is the plan for ESPN Radio. I certainly hope it is, but there isn’t anyone in the current lineup with the clear, undeniable potential to be that dude. I see a lot of two-for-one deals where guys are asked to make time for both TV and radio in order for the suits to justify paying them something close to what they are worth.
ESPN Radio is the only network in my lifetime that has successfully built its own flamethrower within its structure. It happened in 2004 when Cowherd replaced Tony Kornheiser in the late morning slot. The bosses found a guy that was incredibly smart and talented, put him in a prime position where his show was going to be carried by a lot of affiliates and they let the audience grow with him.
Can that path be copied and pasted into 2023? I don’t know. I do talk to a lot of PDs though, and right now there are plenty of them that would be more excited for the network to try it than they are about yet another new primetime radio lineup from the Worldwide Leader.
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.
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