The glittering ball drop in Times Square had nothing on the flickering lights illuminating Mike (Sports Pope) Francesa’s WFAN balcony on New Year’s Eve. If we are to believe he is serious, the final countdown to the pontiff’s FAN exit, the end to nearly three decades of dismissive pontificating, is on.
As a matter of fact, Sunday will mark Francesa’s final regular season “Football Sunday” show. Last week, on the air, Francesa said he won’t do the program in 2017 because he would be leaving FAN in December and could not chronicle the NFL season in its entirety.
If these are the final days, there can be no denying Francesa had a tremendous, even historic, run. With much pomposity he has not only been THE go-to Gasbag, but maintained high ratings, which kept the “competition,” ESPN-98.7, in the Pope Mobile’s rearview mirror.
(James Devaney/GC Images)
No doubt the story of Francesa’s exit from FAN will be one of the bigger ones of 2017. It will be accompanied by twists, turns and speculation. We are skeptical he will actually depart and won’t believe it until it happens. The fact Francesa announced his intentions a year before his departure date is curious and raises questions.
At the time of his announcement, the radio business was on shaky financial ground. It still is in the toilet. In terms of earnings, FAN is not what it once was. And its anemic bottom line is adversely impacted by over-paying the Yankees for their radio rights. And, to a lesser extent, paying Francesa a salary that cannot be covered by the ad revenue his show pulls in.
Did Francesa read the tea leaves and figure out his salary, between $ 3.5-$ 4.5 million per, was going to be drastically cut? Did he want to give the suits more time to ponder what his exit would mean to the station in terms of further losses from an advertising sales standpoint?
What would happen (and it’s a longshot) if management did not cut his salary or even increase it? The bet here is the Pope’s WFAN career would continue. Another scenario: Management splits afternoon drive into two shows, with Francesa doing one. Obviously his salary would be cut but he could justify it because he would be working fewer hours.
If he does actually leave, where will Francesa land? Although he would immediately juice 98.7’s ratings, ESPN is not paying Francesa-like money to a local talkie.
Like Bill Simmons, will Francesa create his own media company, develop programming, and sell the rights to a distributor? Or will he cut a deal with James (Guitar Jimmy) Dolan and create a new show for the MSG Network. Anything is possible. Yet, it’s hard to imagine Francesa totally getting out of the business and not having an outlet to preach to the unwashed masses.
Whoever has to follow his act will not have an easy time. Only NJ Guv Chris Christie could — literally — fill Francesa’s chair. Still, there will be no shortage of suspects, too numerous to name, who will trample over each other to get the gig. FAN boss Mark Chernoff and Chris Oliviero, CBS Radio’s VP/programming, will select Francesa’s successor.
If he actually leaves.
THE MARSHALL HAM
Brandon Marshall was AGAIN a no-show on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL.” So, he was unable to elaborate/spin some of his recent comments (he was surprised there were no “fistfights” in the Jets locker room) or use the national platform to answer some of his detractors.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Marshall. His made-for-TV image took a beating. And not just from Sheldon Richardson. On SNY’s Jets postgame show following the Pats debacle, analyst Mike Westhoff, after listening to Marshall’s esoteric comments, mocked him, saying: “Next, I expected to hear something about chanting and incense.”
Later in the week, it got tougher. In so many words Willie Colon questioned his former teammate’s motives and sincerity. “All I’ve seen is theatrics out of Brandon instead of production,” Colon said on SNY. “What Sheldon is saying is ‘you’re supposed to be our leader and we can’t find you.’ If you want to point your finger at anybody point it at yourself.”
Marshall is scheduled to return to “ITN” this week. He should have plenty to discuss.
OFF THE MARKS
Sometimes it’s just better to cut your losses.
Unfortunately, ESPN-98.7’s Anita Marks doesn’t subscribe to that theory. Wednesday morning on “Mike & Mike” she vapor-locked. Rather than calling Aaron Rodgers the Packers QB, she kept calling “Brett Favre” the Green Bay QB. OK, it was early. Not the end of the world.
Instead of letting it go, Marks returned to the 98.7 airwaves a few hours later trumpeting her mistake. Guess she thought it was funny. Or maybe she just needed some material. Marks made the moment even more curious, and cringe inducing, by asking if her gaffe was “as bad as that Dallas weather report,” an obvious reference to Francesa’s lecture on Big-D weather and the retractable dome.
This must be what sports-talk radio at its finest really is, right?
With all the hot air blowing from the sports media machine, it’s hard getting a sniff of anything different.
Fox’s Terry Bradshaw cut through the gusts with his commentary on Mike Tomlin, calling the Steelers coach a “cheerleader.” For his cutting remarks, Bradshaw was sliced and diced in numerous media quarters, which included former players turned yakkers like Phil Simms and Norman Julius Esiason.
Yet in a media world where participants are encouraged to bring attention to themselves, T.B. was just following the doctor’s orders. Not that this is anything new to him. Bradshaw has been ticking people off, including NFL media types, for years.
How dare he!
Now, he has basically an hour to play with on Sunday morning. One of 17 hours of pregame programming. Bradshaw on Fox still remains a must watch. For you never know what he might say.
Just ask Tomlin.
NEW ERA FOR HALL
Listening to some fascinating discussions on how HOF voters are softening their position and casting votes for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens seems to always include a line like this: The steroids era is a part of baseball’s history and should be included in Cooperstown.
That’s fine. Question: How does anyone know the “steroids era” in baseball is actually over. Players still get busted and suspended for PEDs. If this is now accepted as routine, common place, if steroids cheats will be la-dee-da-ing their way into Cooperstown, does this mean investigative sports reporters, who once were all over this stuff, have been put on the shelf?
The changing media priorities, combined with the financial state of the biz, seems to be making this aggressive coverage a thing of the past. And that’s troubling.
If nothing else, John (Pa Pinstripe) Sterling is consistent. Working a few midday shifts on WFAN last week, Sterling returned us to the days when he was Gasbagging on WMCA. Back then, he despised being interrupted by a caller and he still, given his condescending remarks, doesn’t dig it. Maybe that’s why Suzyn (Ma Pinstripe) Waldman doesn’t ever cut him off… The Fill-In Follies continued with FAN teaming Marc Malusis and Kimberly Jones in morning drive. It’s not the first time they have gigged together. Jones takes herself very seriously. Malusis? Not so much. Makes for an interesting and listenable pairing of Gasbags… After seeing that picture of Odell Beckham Jr. sitting in front of his locker, it’s only a matter of time before he releases a designer line of torn underwear. Maybe he can convince Pat Hanlon to model.
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DUDE OF THE WEEK: MILWAUKEE BUCKS
For their ticket sales gimmick. Face it, when you haven’t won an NBA title in many moons you need to be creative and willing to gamble to lure new customers. So, the Bucks have introduced an inventive 10-game ticket plan “10 WIN SUPERPASS” enabling fans to purchase a ticket to the next 10 “Bucks home wins,” but you only pay for the 10 games the Bucks win, no matter how long it takes. Fans could get a free ride until spring on this deal. Maybe the Jets should think of offering this plan to their fans.
DWEEB OF THE WEEK: RUSSIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
Earlier this week Russian athletic officials admitted even they can no longer claim that a systemic, illegal and dangerous practice of doping to try and win more Olympic medals did not take place on their watch. The evidence is monumental, the impact devastating. So the next time a media outlet tries to wrap the idea of fair competition and brotherhood inside the Olympic Rings of purity, pause before guzzling the global concoction of Kool-Aid. It may be tainted.
What Chan Gailey said: “I think it’s a myriad of things that happened at different times that created problems for us.”
What Chan Gailey meant to say: “We sucked!”