Mike Francesa was on a panel of sports industry professionals last night at a New York University-hosted discussion on the role of the sports in society. As all such panels must, this too had an ominously vague title: “Sports in America: The Power of Sports in our Society.”
Joining Francesa was a diverse group of roles serving the industry: a sportswriter (Robert Lipsyte, USA Today), an editor (Michael Ozanian, Forbes SportsMoney), a pro athlete (Chad Cascadden, former N.Y. Jets linebacker), a front office executive (Michael Cramer, former president of Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars), and a finance executive (Greg Carey, Goldman Sachs; Carey helped finance the new Yankees Stadium), among others. Donny Deutsch was there for some reason, but he didn’t appear to have any kind of role in “sports in our society.”
Noticeably absent was anyone representing online media. Apparently the internet hasn’t played a proportionate role in sports yet.
But Francesa dominated the discussion as though he did it for a living. Francesa and Deutsch, the two members with the most media exposure, were seated strategically at the center but Francesa seemed to radiate like J.C. in The Last Supper. He was the only guy who removed his blazer and was, of course, larger than life. He looked exactly as he did on the YES Network for his show: hair slicked back, colorful facial expressions, and always leaning toward the mic. The only difference was that he sipped a bottled water instead of Diet Coke. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on him and a topic didn’t conclude until Francesa put in his two cents. To his credit, he was also knowledgeable in just about every subject broached: Tiger Woods, private seat licensing at stadiums, player contracts, stadium financing, sports media, etc. Here are some highlights from the panel’s discussion:
- Ozanian said that golf writers had to be “deaf, dumb and blind to not know he was fooling around” well before the news broke in November. Francesa said he had no idea, nor did any of the golf analysts and writers he spoke to about it.
- Everyone agreed that the attention Woods has received is a unique example of how American culture had difficulty drawing a line between sports, politics, and entertainment.
- The panel broadly agreed that Tiger can come back from this, both his brand and his legacy. Francesa said that cheating the game – referring to allegations that Tiger was tied to HGH – would be far worse than cheating on his wife. Golf is different from baseball, which welcomed back A-Rod and Mark Mcgwire with relatively open arms. “If he’s cheating the game, it would be a mark on him from which he can’t come back.”
- A humorous note: When Francesa wondered aloud why Giants built its new stadium with a roof, in effect removing any weather-related competitive advantage, Cascadden, the former Jets player, replied, “because [Giants fans] are pussies!” Everyone roared.
- The private seat license in stadiums is the “greatest obscenity in sports,” according to Francesa.
- Everyone also agreed that pro sports stadiums funded by taxpayer dollars are unjustifiable. This ironically included both Cramer and Carey, the former owner and the Goldman Sachs exec, respectively.
- Francesa refuses to participate in what he called ‘guy talk’ – topics about women, beer, and other extracurricular ‘guy’ stuff. He also said more hosts are encouraged to do it today.
As the event wrapped up Deutsch bolted for the door immediately, but Francesa mingled at the front to talk to audience members. He was approachable so I asked him a few follow-up questions specifically about sports media. Here are some highlights:
- The greatest pitfall of sports radio hosts, he said, is that they spend too much time talking about themselves.
- The only ESPN Radio he’ll listen to is Brandon Tierney, a local ESPN personality. On the balance it’s one big “infomercial.”
- His non-sports talk radio listening habits cover a wide spectrum: The Brian Lehrer Show, a Peabody Award-winning program in the morning and Savage Nation, the host of which spews such hate that he’s been banned from entering the UK, in the evening.
- His go-to sources for sports news is ESPN.com and ESPN News, but not SportsCenter. He made sure to specify that.
- He made no mention of a favorite sports blog, but seems to have softened on his view of internet’s role in sports. He said he’s aware that there are several unofficial web sites and fake twitter and facebook accounts that use his name but he’s not too concerned or outraged to do anything about it.
- He’s got and old school flip phone and doesn’t text message. His primary method for communication with sources is by calling them up. They all pretty much take his calls too.