By Karl Bullock
Mike Greenberg (BSJ89), co-host of ESPN’s “Mike & Mike,” took time Friday to reflect on the habits and necessities to be successful in sports broadcasting.
He sat in an intimate McCormick Foundation Center classroom with students, and amidst humorous tales of time spent with friend and radio comrade Mike Golic, Greenberg shared his sentiments and reminiscence about sports, people and his career behind the mic.
This is what I learned:
Sports coverage is not about the games
We live in a society where every game is available to the people who want to watch. So what compels an audience to watch a particular broadcast?
Greenberg detailed the interesting things going on in sports today, from performance-enhancing drugs to the legalization of marijuana. He also touched on the ways sports intersect with other major topics like social justice and domestic violence. He referenced Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during The Star Spangled Banner, as well as the 2016 ESPY Awards show introduction when four of the NBA’s biggest stars — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — spoke on the nation’s sensitivities to social justice.
As he mentioned these tidbits, Greenberg answered his earlier question by pointing out that “it’s not the coverage of sports, it’s the coverage of all the other issues.” The athletes, people and issues involved in the sports world are just as intriguing as the games themselves.
Connect with the audience
Greenberg said success in radio relies on mastering the art of creating conversation interesting enough that millions of people want to listen. The key is being able to make a connection with your audience and the vulnerabilities that encompasses. In the field of broadcasting, being “Too cool for the room,” won’t cut it.
“You have to be willing to let people see you at your worst and let them see or hear you voice things that are not perfect or polished,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg continued to talk about how being vulnerable let’s people feel closer to you, more comfortable with you and feel as if they know you on a personal level. He did note that there isn’t a single script for how it’s done; what works well for one individual may be entirely different for someone else.
Preparation is essential
Greenberg shared an anecdote about former colleague and current NBC sportscaster Mike Tirico and his preparation before telecasts of Monday Night Football (MNF).
The “Mike & Mike” show used to travel to cities where Monday Night Football would occur and produce a live show on Monday mornings. One day, Greenberg decided to hang out with the broadcast’s Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to see how they prepared.
Greenberg recalled sitting and watching both Tirico and Gruden during their Sunday preparation. He remembered Gruden studying plays and recognizing them before the ball was hiked, and Tirico typing notes on his laptop while at the same time planning for two upcoming NBA games later that week. Greenberg was in awe.
The anecdote was a reminder of an earlier sentiment of Greenberg’s when he spoke about author Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers.” Gladwell asserts that the best way to become an expert in something is to practice and put the time in to manifest those skills.
Avoid the acts and just be yourself
One of the last takeaways from Greenberg was that we are all influenced by someone in one way or another. Still, it doesn’t mean we should mimic their personalities. Don’t try to be Bob Costas, Michael Francesca, Tom Waddle or Marc Silverman. We can’t be someone who already exists.
“You can’t be them, because they are them,” he said.
Instead, Greenberg encouraged students to find the most natural versions of themselves and make that persona an on-air extension of who they are. At the same time, figure out the best way to inhabit that character in broadcast.
It was hard to figure out at first, but ultimately it seemed to me that what Greenberg was saying is you cannot fake being genuine. People will see right through that, not care what you have to say, and eventually it can crash and burn.
No matter the gimmicks, cliché phrases and opinions, there is a way to create “good, compelling, unique content,” Greenberg said.
The solution is to be yourself.