There is a growing movement within the sports media sphere. A movement that inspires professional athletes, both current and former, to seize back and capitalize on the narratives that drive discussion around sports. This movement has been dubbed "new media," as you may have heard. Right now the seizing of the narratives is mostly contained to the NBA sphere, where individuals like JJ Redick and Draymond Green relish pushing back against the talking heads who have profited off basketball's absurd drama for years.
But there has never been a more fruitful time than right now for athletes to use sports media to even further take advantage of their fame and experience across the board. It's not hard to imagine a near future where more and more former pros end up in broadcast booths and network studios across the country, getting paid well to lend their real-life experience to viewers.
Not everybody can do it. John Smoltz definitely can. The Hall of Fame pitcher is one of the best former MLB player-turned-broadcasters the industry has seen. He moved to the booth even before he officially retired and has remained there for nearly 15 years. He even won a Sports Emmy in 2021 as an Outstanding Event Analyst for his work broadcasting the MLB playoffs. His post-playing career path will be one many fellow players will likely pursue, especially with the plentiful opportunities the market currently offers.
Smoltz spoke to The Big Lead at the Icons Series tournament at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey and explained what any former player should know if they're looking to transition into sports media.
"Well, the biggest thing is, you gotta remember the game is not easy, whatever sport you played," Smoltz said. "When you make the transition [to the booth], you see it at a totally different level. It's not just what you know and what you did, it's what the game is and what it's become. I think that's the biggest transition."
Part of it all is learning whether a player is more suited to a studio or a live broadcast role. Smoltz is a veteran of both and broke down the key differences.
"It’s a big difference. When you're at the game, you're talking about the game, you see the game at a different level. When you're watching it on TV and you're kind of broadly talking about the game, it's much harder because you're not studying particularly for that game," he said. "You're actually looking at baseball on the whole. It really is a narrow scope when you're broadcasting a game and then it's a big scope when you're in the studio."
The next few years present a unique opportunity for professional athletes. There appears to be no cap on what the networks are willing to spend to bring name recognition and on-field experience to their shows and broadcasts. If the cards are played right, players who are still in the middle of their careers can set themselves up for a big payday once they're done and never really have to go far from the game they love. Guys like Smoltz have provided the blueprint. It's up to everybody else to follow it.