Ethan Skolnick has been a familiar voice to Miami sports fans for over two decades. With his venture along with co-founder Chris Wittyngham, Five Reasons Sports Network, he is looking to give fans access to the new voices of sports media in South Florida. Their platform is built on fan engagement, diversity, and a unique approach to collaboration with other sports media outlets. I recently caught up with Ethan and he told me how Five Reasons is changing the landscape of local sports content, and got his take on the state of Miami sports in general.
David: You have been working in print media and television for most of your career, what made you decide to go all in on the podcast platform?
Ethan: It’s a complex answer, but we can start here — I wasn’t employed as of January 2018. Chris Wittyngham and I had kept in touch since he left our afternoon drive radio show in 2016, and he had been pushing me to get back in the business. He suggested we try a podcast, which is something that I’d looked at over the years; Jon “Stugotz” Weiner and I had actually explored some possibilities together when I was working with Stu on Sports Bang. So we tried it, and I found my voice again, and we both liked the format better than radio. The problem on radio is that you need to fill three hours every day, and sometimes there’s not enough material to warrant that, so you tend to repeat the same old segments. With a podcast, you talk about something for as long as it’s worth, and then you edit it later to make sure that there’s no more than the listener needs. It’s better content, and it’s on the listener’s schedule. Once we did our podcast, I had heard of others — mostly former readers and followers of mine on social media — who wanted to try a podcast too. It started with connecting with the three guys who became Three Yards Per Carry, talking to Kevin “Slim” Mayer about re-launching Ballscast, and hearing that Miami Heat Beat (on which I had appeared as a guest) wasn’t pleased with its national network. We were off. Then I kept going. Chris wants to kill me sometimes, I think, but my attitude is that dozens of podcasts are starting every day. The good podcasts in Miami might as well be in our network, as long as they aren’t too close to what we already have.
David: How do you feel the sports coverage in Miami is lacking? What are you doing with 5 Reasons to change that?
Ethan: I want to be careful not to fault the content producers — whether hosts or writers or TV personalities — for this. There’s still a lot of talent in this market. But traditional local sports media outlets have been declining for a while. While I recognize the financial constraints, especially as new technology has changed the industry, you can’t keep cutting and cutting then expect the product to be nearly as good. You can’t block young talent forever, on piddly wages, with no hope of advancement and expect them to grow. When I worked at the three newspapers (for a total of five different stints), I saw this first hand. At the Palm Beach Post in the late 1990s, we had a murderer’s row of gifted, ambitious writers in their 20s, many of whom and those that followed them (Israel Gutierrez, Jeff Darlington, Joe Schad, Greg Bedard, Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Derrick Goold) have gone on to major platforms. It also helped that we had a core of selfless veteran writers, like Greg Stoda and Tom D’Angelo and Brian Biggane and Craig Dolch and Dave George, among others, to guide us. But whereas once there were more than 20 sportswriters on each of the three local staffs, now there are fewer than 20 total sportswriters at the those newspapers. Now it’s too much about click counts. The people who are still there are still really good. Unfortunately they’ve been hurt by what’s happened above them. We have more than a dozen contributors under age 25. We are going to build them up, by giving them the freedom to create. We will also engage the community. That’s why I tweet so much, why I interact with followers, why I follow back, and why we even crowdsourced for a sales staff. We want to make South Florida feel a part of this.
— Five Reasons Sports Network (@5ReasonsSports) August 23, 2018
David: Do you feel the lack of star power across the major pro teams in Miami hurts the recruitment of free agents?
Ethan: This is a strange time. Dwyane Wade came back at age 36 and was by far the biggest star in town as soon as he stepped on a court. The Heat usually have the big star, but Pat Riley had the strangest offseason of his Heat career in 2017, locking up slightly above average players and taking himself out of the “room” with free agents. The Dolphins? Just one player in the top 100 on the NFL Network survey, and he’s 36 (Cameron Wake). We know what’s happened with the Marlins. The best athlete in town is probably Sasha Barkov, and few people would recognize him in the Sawgrass Mall. It’s cyclical, so it will come back around. But star power does attract star power.
David: If you can say, have you made any enemies in the local sports media community with this new endeavor? Does the old guard feel threatened in your opinion?
Ethan: Most outlets have been very supportive. Special mention goes out to The Ticket and WQAM, for letting us give opportunities to a few of their producers. My attitude is that the rising tide lifts all boats, so I’ve been seeking partnerships with legacy media, to promote their people and their work, and some have initiated that contact with me. There’s one outlet that has had a negative response to us, and it struck me as strange; they called us “small” but also now “clear competition”. I’m not sure how it can be both. I think, as Erik Spoelstra says, that you need to “adapt or die.” Go back and read what was said about 790 The Ticket — and specifically the LeBatard Show — back when The Ticket started, especially by those at WQAM, which was then its primary competitor and the old guard in this market. They called it “sissy boy radio.” Now LeBatard Show is the single most important media property in South Florida. They have been incredibly supportive to us, which is Dan’s nature. We will look to partner with them on plenty.
David: Despite likely being the team closest to championship caliber, why do the Miami Hurricanes always seem to take a back seat to the Dolphins in terms of coverage?
Ethan: That may change soon. There’s more excitement for Miami-LSU on September 2nd than for the Dolphins’ season opener; and we’re going to have a Hurricanes watch party at Uncle Al’s Sports Café in Sunrise to commemorate the occasion. If Mark Richt gets this thing rolling, the Hurricanes can move right behind the Heat as the No. 2 team in town. If you’re under 35 years old, you might remember the Hurricanes being really good; you don’t remember that about the Dolphins.
Our next @5ReasonsSports watch party!
Sunday night, September 2nd.
— Five Reasons Sports Network (@5ReasonsSports) August 22, 2018
David: Lastly- Give Miami fans 5 reasons why they should check out the network.
1. We’re free! No paywall. (Well, for anything other than our patron feed, which has a lot of cool new content).
2. We cover everything. We’re now credentialed with the Heat, Dolphins, Marlins, Panthers and Hurricanes, and we will have FAU, UF, FSU, FIU, UCF, USF, boxing, MMA and other concepts soon, to go with fantasy, wrestling, culture and politics. And we even do it in Spanish, with Cinco Razones.
3. We have parties. I never understood why newspapers didn’t let the public meet their talent. We will be in the community, from Miami to Palm Beach.
4. We’re a mix of young and old. Some of our hosts (like Craig Mish, OJ McDuffie, Steve Goldstein, Josh Darrow, Seth Levit) are established names in the Miami sports media space, but a lot of our personnel is straight out of school. And they have learned how to do everything. They tweet, they shoot video, they edit, they design. They have a real multi-media skill set, which I can tell you is not something I got out of journalism school. I had to learn most of that myself.
5. We’re growing. Website soon. That will be cool.
Click on the name of each to find them on Twitter, and to subscribe follow this link to find every Five Reasons podcast available on ITunes.
Five Rings (Hurricanes)
Goldie on Ice (Panthers)
Ballscast (sports/pop culture)
Swings and Mishes (Marlins)
Cinco Razones (Spanish)
Fantasy on 5 (Fantasy sports)
Smark Your Territory (wrestling)
Our mission here at the Miami Sports Wave is to bring our passionate fans fresh coverage of their favorite teams. Media is changing, newspapers are dying. People want content on their terms, in a fresh and dynamic medium. Please make sure to support our local content creators such as Five Reasons…and of course Miami Sports Wave!