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The Conundrum of Media Coverage and Never Trusting the Bucks (Part 2)

Is there really a media bias against the Bucks??

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been almost three weeks since part 1 was published and the Milwaukee Bucks still have the best record in the NBA, still have the best net rating, and now have the captain of the Eastern Conference All Stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo. So all is well, even if some people want more playing time, and everybody wants to make a trade machine trade for Anthony Davis (please stop). That doesn’t mean we didn’t have a portion of discussion to have in the meantime; in fact, I was able to round up some local media folks who were able to provide their insights on Bucks coverage in the state of Wisconsin.

Each contributor was asked questions on their view on Bucks coverage the past few years, how they incorporate the Bucks in their respective roles, any comparison to the Packers and Brewers, and the role social media plays. The contributors who joined me are:

  • Justin Garcia (@TMJGarcia): Studio Host on the Milwaukee Bucks Radio Network and sports host at AM 620 WTMJ
  • Bart Winkler (@WinksThinks): Co-Host of “Chuck & Winkler” Weekdays on 105.7 FM The Fan
  • Joel Finkelman (@JoelFinkelman), aka “Dr. J” (no, not that one): Co-Host of “The Rundown” on the Big 1070 and producer for “Lucas In The Morning” on the Big 1070 in Madison and Big 920 in Milwaukee

How has the Bucks coverage changed in the past few seasons?

Justin Garcia: The biggest change has been the amount of coverage. It’s crazy if you think back to the way this team used to be covered where it was basically just one print outlet and that was about it. Now you still have the Journal Sentinel, but even their coverage has evolved into more than just game recaps and I think a lot of credit for that goes to Matt Velazquez and the job he’s done in a brief time on the job. You just have so many options now with the addition of The Athletic, your site [Brew Hoop] and more and more content out there that’s tailored to basketball fans, even on a national scale - but still covering this team. The other half of it though is just basketball coverage in general and how much that’s changed.

I think one of the big differences between the Bucks and the other local teams is if you follow the Bucks there’s a pretty good chance you follow the NBA as a whole. I don’t believe that to be the case with the Brewers and Packers especially. In the case of football its easy to explain; its an event. So you have people that come in for a game and watch it with their friends because its something everyone does. Basketball is different, if you love the Bucks you love the sport. You know James Harden has scored 40+ five games in a row, you know the Celtics are figuring out rotations or Ben Simmons doesn’t take threes. [Editor’s note: COWARD.] All of that has lead to (for the most part) smarter fans. It’s a long-winded way of saying if you said 15 years ago the Bucks are going to trade for Gilbert Arenas you would have a wide majority of people saying “great, he scores a lot.” Whereas now almost anyone I stop on the street can tell me what his contract is and a wider swath than ever before knows about PER or what his per 36 is and can point out why his offense doesn’t fit with the scheme the Bucks run, and so on.

Bart Winkler: On a personal level, I can say that I’m proud of the coverage that our show “Chuck & Winkler” as well as 105.7 FM The FAN as a whole has been able to provide regarding the Bucks and not just so far this season but since WSSP came on the air back in 2005. I think the main way that the coverage has changed is that there seems to be more of a demand for it lately, which with how well they are playing is to be expected. So it is up to us to respond to that accordingly and I think we have. What I love is that there are more voices than ever that we can have on our show to talk about this team in a way that we haven’t been able to before. Matt Velazquez does a great job covering the team for the paper and he has a large presence on our station. The work Eric Nehm is doing with The Athletic is very impressive and I love picking his brain a few times a week on the show. His partner on the great Locked on Bucks podcast and Brew Hoop emeritus Frank Madden is an invaluable resource. The Fox Sports Wisconsin guys are always willing to lend a hand as well. Outside of us there are so many great people amplifying the coverage for this team that you’ll find at Fiserv on a given night, Katie George, Kane Pitman, Gabe Stoltz, Andrew Wagner, Justin Garcia to name a few. Furthermore, all the people that cover this team without a press pass that are even more insightful across the blogosphere and twitterverse. It’s a good time to be a content craving Bucks fan.

Joel Finkelman: I’ve been in radio for the last five years and over that time coverage for the Bucks has done nothing but increase. Now, to be fair, it increased from pretty much no coverage but it has increased significantly and that’s understandable due to what the team actually is now comparatively to the narrative that surrounded it (with good reason) for years. In reality the amount of coverage the Bucks get now comparatively to when I started is massively greater, and if I were a better public relations person I could easily spin it as having an 800% increase from just five years ago (leaving out the fact that it barely existed before that point). Bringing up the Bucks though, say, on a state-wide syndicated show has some other factors that have to be thought about. Before I say this I should make something clear, I am a Bucks fan, but the Bucks are not a ‘Wisconsin’ team in the way that the Packers and the Brewers are. I realize that may be a tough thing for people to hear but let’s just be honest with ourselves for a second here. The Packers are the Packers, they run the state. The Brewers are massive because it’s ‘America’s past time’ and all that jazz. The Bucks have mostly sat at the kids table of the NBA, particularly during the Herb Kohl years and because of that, the Bucks are Southeastern Wisconsin’s team. That is not to say that there aren’t Bucks fans all over the state, but they simply do not resonate state wide like the Packers, Brewers, and to some regards the Badgers do.

What factors goes into topics to cover for your show/station?

JG: I’m in a unique position because I work for the team. When I’m hosting a show on WTMJ I do try to make it very basketball heavy, and I know there’s still a niche audience out there who’s with me. Obviously that audience has grown more and more in the last couple years, but its still a work in progress. Because WTMJ is more of a news station with live sports than it is a sports station that also impacts how I present the info I want to talk about. I know my audience is going to be lost when I talk about real plus/minus or offensive rating. It doesn’t mean I don’t bring it up, I just have to be careful with how far I go down that road before me and my audience are speaking two different languages.

One thing that drives me crazy and I hear far too much of in this market though is the whole “are you a believer?” talk. For one its just not the way this sport works anymore. We all know the Bucks haven’t won a playoff series since 2001. But a lot has changed since then. You can’t penalize Mike Budenholzer for something he wasn’t a part of. If you want to say this team really needs to win a series this year, sure I’m right there with you. But often times you find people who don’t really cover or follow this team – outside of the January-April stretch when the Packers and Brewers aren’t playing, telling you how you need to feel about this team or using generalities like “Giannis needs to develop a consistent shot so he can take over at the end.” I know there’s a lot of opinions and annoyance with some of those takes and types of hosts out there but I typically try to avoid it because you can tell who does and doesn’t follow this team closely. In terms of coverage in this market, its mostly print media that you should trust. If someone doesn’t show up to shoot arounds or practices, they’re not around this team. They’re just repeating what they’ve seen others write or report and I can tell you outside of myself and a few other TV reporters, you don’t see many people besides Eric, Matt, and Katie at those. Those are the opinions I’d trust if I’m a fan. But as far as framing my shows, I don’t like asking open-ended questions like “Was this their best win?” or “Who should be an all-star this year?”. I like having specific topics that can lead to bigger discussions.

BW: The formula of what we put into our show is simple. We need to be talking about what local sports fans are talking about. And then we need to find a way to bring them information and perspectives on those stories or games that are new to them. Being online, taking phone calls, interacting on twitter... I think by doing that we have a pretty good grasp on what it is that the local fans are discussing. The challenge is, as always, that we are not going to be able to please every fan at every moment. So we have to do our best to come up with a show that hits on the main topic while serving everyone we can that chooses to make us a part of their day.

JF: Like Jalen Rose likes to say frequently, “Give the people what they want”. I can assure you that at no time has a program director ever came in and said ‘you guys cannot talk about the Bucks’. As much as I love conspiracies and particularly sports conspiracies (MJ was suspended by the league for betting on basketball... maybe) there is no grand state-wide sports radio cabal against the Milwaukee Bucks. Basically though the factors that go into it for me are (in no particular order): 1. What host(s) want to talk about. 2. Whatever the big stories of the day are 3. Topics that will provide interesting and unique views. For my money though the first one is the big one. Hosts who are talking about things they don’t care about are fairly obvious. So if you’re a believer that the state media doesn’t talk about the Bucks enough then I suppose you’ll also think we all hate the Bucks. But I can assure everyone that’s far from the truth.

Do you feel the Bucks get fair coverage compared to the Packers and Brewers?

JG: I already briefly touched on this but I think the most unfair part about their coverage is people comparing the past to now. Look if you want to say “I can’t trust the Bucks yet because they haven’t won in the first round in almost 20 years and Giannis hasn’t gotten out of the first round in his three tries,” fine. But at the same time, no one is going to say they don’t trust the Packers yet if they start 7-0 next year. And why not? They finished below .500 the last two years, they had a pretty spotty playoff record after the Super Bowl.

JF: I’m not sure what exactly would be a ‘fair’ amount of coverage. It’s all dependent on what the people want to hear about. While state sports fans like the Bucks... not as many like the Bucks (and want to hear about them) as much as some of the other teams in the state. While watching SithLordAR’s recent twitter video about state coverage (which I watched about 23 times I couldn’t get enough of it) he mentioned how all stations (including ours) should be wall-to-wall coverage. While I agreed with a lot of the points in his video, I’m not sure how four consecutive hours of Bucks talk would go over on a statewide radio show. OK I’m kidding, I know exactly how it would go over (not well). At the end of the day though I often wonder about the Golden State Warriors, for years they were a total joke and their market had multiple other big teams to talk about in a sports media landscape. When they were starting to take their first steps to becoming an all-time great team, I bet coverage was pretty similar to what the Bucks are now. Why is this? Because for years the Warriors (and in a lot of ways sadly the Bucks) were a total laughing stock of the league. So they had to ‘prove it’ before people who had watched them for years could fully buy in. I think there is a lot of similarity of that to what is happening with coverage in Wisconsin for the Bucks. Is THAT fair? I don’t really know, but it is what it is sadly.

BW: My answer is yes. But I understand why the most passionate of Bucks fans would be mad at me for saying that. If the Bucks are your favorite team and it’s a situation where that is always the case (unlike me who admittedly will go back and forth between the clubs), you’re probably tired of hearing about the other teams as much as you do on the radio. Especially now since the Bucks are atop the NBA and have the presumptive MVP on their roster. You want them to get the credit they deserve! I totally get that. I’d like to revisit this topic in April/May when the Bucks are making their playoff run. We’ll be wall to wall Bucks coverage just like we were doing the Brewers playoff run, and the Packers playoff runs before that. The Bucks will be dominating the sports landscape here and thus will be dominating the sports talk radio landscape. So while I definitely see it from the passionate Bucks fan point of view, I would ask that those people also see it through mine. I feel like the “local radio doesn’t talk enough Bucks narrative was intensified at a time when that crowd was never going to be truly satisfied. While I know the sentiment has been there for many people for a long time, it really got the most attention at a time in which the Packers were looking for their first head coach in 13 years. That was the number one topic in the state, and not just in the world of sports. It even lead all newscasts during their news segments. At the same time, the Bucks were beating up on teams and there wasn’t a lot of drama with any win - I specifically recall the 23 point win over the Pistons on New Years Day as a turning point for people that were fed up with the perceived lack of attention to the Bucks. I know that win gave the Bucks the best winning percentage in the league and it’s been a long time since that happened as well, but if I can’t convince you that a Packers coaching change is bigger than where the Bucks are in the standings in January (at least from a sports talk radio perspective), then you’re never going to be satisfied with how we cover this team on our station.

It did bother me and I took it quite personal when my station came under attack as much as it did. Steve “Sparky” Fifer has been giving Bucks fans a place to go after games for nearly 15 seasons with our postgame show, during most of the time when the team was barely worth talking about on any platform. And even then, he’s been forcing the Bucks into the daily conversation during his entire WSSP run. My cohost Chuck Freimund is an encyclopedia on the Bucks all the way back to their days at the MECCA, and if you throw out a date he could probably tell you the exact score and who lead the Bucks in points that night. We are constantly adding segments and shows to bring you the best voices covering the team, and we’re in the locker room after every home game. I felt like that was all getting forgotten because people were getting sick about hearing about the coaching change on a bad football team.

But keep being passionate. Now that the Packers search is settled the Bucks are going to be the top sports story in the state for as long as they want to be. Yeah, the NFL Draft will get plenty of coverage and the Brewers will get a ton of attention as they pick up their season, but when the Bucks are winning and cruising through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, that will be the thing people are talking about and we’ll be right there like we always have been.

Does social media help or hurt coverage?

JG: Overall I would say social media has helped the coverage. I think we would all be lying if we said we don’t find something on Twitter and think “oh thats interesting” and dig into it a little further. I do it a lot. Someone may tweet out something about lineups, which leads me to thinking ok, I wonder how this one is and all of a sudden that nugget is part of the pregame show. For all the negatives of social media - its been a great promotional tool. There is a highly engaged fanbase and I think a lot of that comes from the social media connection. Not just through the fanbase on twitter, but the Bucks marketing and digital team and the job guys like Dustin and Nick have done really getting more and more content out there. Now the bad? Well it can be a pretty negative place, there’s a lot of opinion snobbery (we’re all guilty of this at times) and there’s a lot of parroting. The last year plus of the Jason Kidd era, after every game I’ll tweet out a recap we do for the game, highlights, player interview if they win, etc. It reached the point where after every loss our mentions and replies were just people complaining to fire the coach. Over and over. I get it, but also understand that’s not what this is for. Here’s last night’s game, if you’re upset they lost maybe don’t listen. A lot of Twitter can feel like conflict solicitation. Challenging everything – which has its merits – and for myself and others tied to the broadcast, you have to constantly remind yourself this isn’t my hill to die on and I’m representing the team here. I like to engage with people who reach out, even those that question something I say and having that back and forth I think is good. I think we all gain different perspective and learn from it. I view twitter as callers to my show. How would I interact with or handle those, am I learning anything from this or has my opinion changed on something or have I changed someone else’s opinion. At the end we all just want the same thing...a Bucks championship.

JF: Social media’s impact on the coverage of the Bucks is fascinating to me because we are all familiar with ‘Bucks Twitter’. It is both a place that is tight-knit and supportive, while simultaneously having elements of toxicity and a Napoleon complex. When I say Napoleon complex I am referring to ‘Why doesn’t the national media talk about us more?’ and so on. I think Bucks Twitter shares a lot of similarities with Soccer Twitter, UFC Twitter, NHL Twitter and others who have a rabid fan base but a fanbase that has a way of irking the casual fan. There are times where Bucks Twitter and the rest of those will kind of push away casual fans because they aren’t “as devoted as the rest of us who have been here since the beginning...” With that said though Bucks Twitter also has a way of being an incredible place online where the meme game is strong, Jabari defense videos are plentiful, and #BucksIn6 will live forever. Because the average age of Bucks fans is less than the Packers and Brewers, the knowledge of social media is much greater. Radio shows increasing reliance on social media and in particular Twitter should line up perfectly with Bucks Twitter. So, to be cliché here I guess I will split the difference and say both. There are pockets of social media that definitely do not help with coverage of the team but the long term prognosis of social media and sports radio should be a fantastic thing for people who want more coverage of the Bucks on Twitter.

BW: Ultimately it helps since there are more ways for people to get the coverage they are looking for but also it helps as a way to interact about the Bucks without having to use local stations to do it. There are fan groups and twitter discussions and sections of the internet where Bucks fans can congregate without anyone setting the agenda for them. That’s a good thing as a consumer. And it allows us to provide more content/access too, through video and podcasts that we couldn’t do before. So it is a good thing, let’s just remember not beat each other up too bad online, and I will try to take my own advice there as well.

We want to thank Justin, Joel and Bart for all of their help with answering our questions. Make sure to follow them on their respective stations and shows, as they really do give the state of Wisconsin the good Bucks coverage it deserves. Until then, we’ll keep doing our part, and as always...

Bucks in 6.