Who are the most over-exposed sports celebrities? We're talking about the ones that get on our nerves, the ones we think are overpaid or overrated, the jocks who despite their obvious talents and accomplishments simply rub us the wrong way.
Lots of names come to mind – LeBron, Colin Kaepernick, Sidney Crosby – the list goes on and on. Oftentimes, the stars that fans whine about the most are the ones we can't stop reading about in the news.
A story in the Sports Cheat Sheet not long ago listed seven of the most reviled sports personalities out there – always a topic that gets the phones ringing on sports radio stations across America.
One of the names on the list was Patriots' superstar Tom Brady. Despite being the winningest quarterback ever, sports fans – outside of New England, of course – detest Brady. Whether it's his winning ways, those cheating allegations, his model wife, his clean cut life, or the fact he's simply not aging, Brady is one of the big names on the Sports Cheat Sheet's list of hated athletes.
His coach – Bill Belichick – could have just as easily been in that group, too. In fact, among many fans, he could have occupied the top slot. Even though he takes no snaps or makes no tackles, the Patriots' coach owns that stoic visage on the sidelines. He has the same facial expression, whether the Patriots lose the game on a last-second trick play or whether they win the Super Bowl. That makes fans nuts.
After their Super Bowl victory over the Rams earlier this month – a low-rated, boring game from start to finish – I read a tweet I can't put my hands on anymore from someone with a solid understanding of both sports and radio. The author made the insightful analogy that the Patriots are like a well-oiled radio station that plays a squeaky-tight playlist, takes few big or crazy risks, and has a powerful team in Belichick and Brady that operates much like a great PD and a talented morning guy (or gal) – a powerful duo that's always on the same page.
And that's exactly how the Patriots coach and QB interact, connect, and play off one another. Just a few days later, I came across this article in Entrepreneur – “5 Partnership Lessons from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady” – by a sales and marketing exec, Gregg Schwartz.
Here are Gregg's lessons, followed by a few radio-inspired learnings from yours truly:
1. They complement each other's skills – Brady is the face of the team, the outgoing one who interacts with the media. Belichick is a terrible interview, and does not work well with reporters. They are each maniacal when it comes to preparation, but very much bring different personalities to the team.
That sums up a great relationship between programmers and air talent. It's can be a strong combination when the person behind the mic is the one that everyone wants to talk to. The PD often works best behind the scenes, quietly pushing the levers that guide the station.
2. They trust each other – Brady and Belichick find themselves in challenging, and seemingly hopeless circumstances several times a season. The quarterback trusts his coach to bring a smart game plan to the field. And when things look especially perilous, Belichick trusts Brady to take the team down the field while the clock ticks away.
That's the trust factor at work. And it's the tough times when you learn about that silent pact between PD and talent. Just as sports teams roller coaster through most seasons, rating books can be just as cruel. When things get sticky, the PD has to trust his morning show hasn't suddenly lost their talent. And personalities who trust their boss know programmers don't get stupid overnight.
3. They have mutual respect – no need to be friends – It's not about how they get along on or off the field. It is not essential the coach and the quarterback hang out with other. In fact, professional separation can be a good thing.
And the same holds true of PDs and their morning monsters. Sure, it's great when they enjoy sharing a meal or going to a concert together. But the true test is that tacit appreciation for each other's ability to do their jobs on the good days – and on the bad ones.
4. They need to be aligned with each other – In essence, it's about the good of the team. And everyone celebrates when the Patriots win another Lombardi Trophy, despite the differences in compensation and the other luxuries that often divide the big names.
The same principles are in place at the station level, where you're vying for a rating's dominance, and perhaps, a Marconi Award. Just as with Belichick and Brady, talent often out-earns programmers, especially in larger markets. But great PDs – in particular – so appreciate the positive, “all boats rise” power of a great morning show. Paychecks become secondary to overall success.
5. They share duties and the workload – A reason why they're at such a high level is that Belichick and Brady out-work their co-workers and teammates. And the coach needs to out-perform his peer across the field, while the QB needs to have the edge over his adversary in the other huddle.
In a radio station, the division of labor can differ dramatically between the PD and the morning talent. But to succeed at the highest level, both have competitive challenges at their respective positions they must master if they want to win in the ratings.
And now, a handful of sports/radio analogies of my own:
6. They know they're only as strong as each other – A great coach isn't going to win a lot of games with a lousy quarterback. And conversely, even a great passer won't get far without a great game plan.
It's very much that way in radio. It is difficult to be a big winner without a superstar morning show, despite a PD's skills. And we've seen even superstar morning guys – including Howard Stern – often produce very mortal results on rudderless stations without a plan or purpose.
7. They are intensely competitive – Yes, everyone wants to be a winner, but it takes a special coach and a driven QB to win championships. Keeping the fire – even after a decade or more together – is the signature of a great PD/morning show combination. The ones at the top of the heap tend to not only have great talent and skill, but also that intangible grit we call competitiveness.
Just as football seasons are long and grueling, there's a perpetual, endless quality to radio rating books – one always immediately follows the other. Continuing to fight the good fight, monthly after monthly, quarter after quarter, and year after year comes down to the ability to rekindle that competitive fire – again and again.
8. They don't get too high…or too low – There are too many one-off Super Bowl winners to even mention – teams that turned out to be one and done, despite having great talent. And in radio, it's those one or two book wonders – stations that skyrocketed at the beginning, only to experience a fall into mediocrity.
Brady and Belichick know how to win – and they know how to lose. They've done both together. And that means not getting too jacked up after a Super Bowl win, while not allowing a disappointing season to taint their ability to pick themselves up and get back in the game.
So it is in radio. Even after a huge win in the ratings or the football field, there's time for that big celebration. And then it's back to work the next morning.
9. They stay focused – For star athletes, in particular, there are the trappings of fame, money, acolytes, endorsements, and other distractions that can very quickly throw everything off. For great radio talent, it's all those things, plus syndication and the temptations of bigger markets, fame and fortune.
Great coaches/PDs know the essentials of keeping their eye on the prize. While the perks, the freebies, and other trappings are part of both the games of football and radio, becoming fixated on them almost always translates to a loss of focus, and ultimately not winning it all.
10. They support their teammates – For a strategist like Belichick, it's his assistant coaches and coordinators (many of whom have moved on to head coaching assignments of their own). For Brady, it's a merry-go-round of running backs, receivers, and lineman over the years – a replaceable group of athletes, but all critically important to winning. Knowing how to best use all the parts, pieces, and players around you is a key to consistently winning.
In football as in radio, you don't excel without all these people. Developing great talent on both the coaching/programming side, as well as behind the mic/the ball are part of the complex makeup that power great teams as well as great radio stations.
11. They're in it for the long haul – In both the NFL or major market radio, things happen. Stations and teams are sold, personnel are hired….and fired. Longevity is hard to come by.
But when it works, you don't mess with it. Belichick and Brady have been a duet since 2000 – that's coming up on 19 seasons together, a component of winning it all multiple times. And so it goes in radio. Programmers and shows that have consistently been victorious almost always can boast of a long run.
On my client roster, I think of the Bill Weston/Preston & Steve team at WMMR, Dave Richards/B.J. Shea (& Migs) at KISW (one of the rare post-Howard Stern replacements), Larry McFeelie and John Holmberg‘s “Morning Sickness” at KUPD, and appropriately, Mike Thomas and Toucher & Rich at the Sports Hub in Boston – winning combos that like Belichick and Brady have been together a decade or more. Their tenure and talent goes a long way toward explaining their long-term success, despite station sales, management turnover, and other “uncontrollables” that happen along the way.
At the highest levels of each “sports,” whether it's playing for the pigskin or the mic, victory is often fleeting and elusive.
When it happens – again and again and again – you can usually point to the one-two punch of both football and radio.
Head coach and QB.
PD and morning talent.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.