About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

The great living inventor of sports talk radio as we know it opened himself up to ridicule this year after returning to WFAN-AM less than six months after quitting the radio station built largely by him.

Mike Francesa orchestrated a frilly, drawn-out farewell tour culminating in an emotional on-air goodbye a few weeks before Christmas last year. In May of this year, suddenly he was back.

We now fully understand why the awkward drama took the twists it did.

It’s the app.

The last guy one would expect to embrace new technology is now trying to deliver an array of sports-related content with much of it bypassing the 50-thousand watt transmitter blanketing the New York City radio market. Francesa’s 30-plus years talking sports here won him a big, loyal following. He’s now hoping some of his listeners will pay a hundred bucks a year for the “Mike’s On” app launched last Friday.

Francesa left WFAN last year believing he could succeed on his own – without the burden of answering to the corporate CBS/Entercom parent he doesn’t admire. As a free agent, Mike met with a bunch of new technology outfits. He sought knowledge about how to monetize an app or podcast platform reluctantly embraced by him after watching his pal Bill Simmons reach a large audience with that model.

So, in May of this year Mike returned to WFAN at a cut rate – with a shorter time slot. It was a post-divorce reconciliation by necessity. The radio station needed him. The afternoon trio that filled his vacancy was doing poorly in the ratings. Craig Carton was in big trouble with the law. And as we would later learn – Joe Benigno was in hot water of his own – with a harassment claim that has kept him off the air for months.

The FAN was desperate to win back the afternoon drive slot that Mike’s presence could guarantee.

In return, Mike needed the exposure of the radio show to stay viable until he got the app up and running.

Along the way, sports gambling was deemed legal by the US supremes. Now left up to the states – Jersey pounced and New York should not be too far behind.

Mike is more of a stocks guy – but he’s cognizant of point spreads – especially in football. Corporate-owned media doesn’t seem immediately ready to put their foot on the gas on gambling but Mike is already linked up with DraftKings (the bookmaker taking legal bets at the Meadowlands) and hasn’t be shy saying expanded betting will be a boon to sports talk.

So, while FAN management can’t be fond of all the app hype – and the amount of output Mike is putting on a platform outside of its control – both parties will coexist as long as Mike wins afternoon drive.

“This is something I’ve had in my head for years,” said Mike in introductory remarks to his app audience from his home studio in Nassau County. “Content delivery. We’re at the front end, rather than chasing.”

I personally have no problem paying the $98.99 annual for Mike’s app because I believe the promised content is worth the money. All of Mike’s regular radio shows will be archived (audio and video). Mike will pop up on “the air” via the app from home to react to various important New York sports moments like a Yankee playoff game. And there’s a commitment from Mike to put young broadcasters on the platform, guys like John Jastremski who Mike clearly likes. “Give ’em a voice,” he said. “Let you the audience get to know these guys. They’ll be the broadcasters of the future. I get to shape a content machine to what I want. To what I think is important.”

The usual cynics working for the tabloids – and those who mock Mike on Twitter – say the app will fail because of its price tag. They cite the roughly comparable monthly subscription fees of Netflix – or Sirius XM – and point to the heft of content on those services vs. what Mike will offer.

It’s still just barely off the ground, but I’m inclined to agree with Mike who has faith a good chunk of his fandom will come along for the ride. While doing a show from home this morning on the app (he’s off from the radio station on vacation all week), Mike acknowledged that subscriber numbers will tell the story about whether this gambit pays off: “The audience always gets to make the final decision,” he said.

-The availability of hazy, flavorful and dank-smelling IPA’s has become an embarrassment of riches in NYC with the addition of Grimm Artisanal Ales in Brooklyn. The beer scene here was slow to build but has totally exploded now to the point that the options are mind-boggling. Joe and Lauren Grimm have been selling their admired creations from the wave’s inception but only in June of this year were they finally able to open their own place with their own tanks. The brewery and tap room space on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg is beautiful. The people who work the taps, sell the four-packs and collect the glasses off the tables all have warm dispositions and are eager to talk beer. They’re open on Mondays which is big for me. One beertender told me Joe and Lauren want to be open on Monday so industry people can enjoy their beer. Also unique is that even their most highly-anticipated can offerings are not selling out until several days after they debut. Demand is not outstripping supply for those who can’t stand on a Saturday morning line. That’s really nice. Grimm’s can label art is incredible – often penned by Lauren. And in half a dozen visits on Sundays and Mondays so far, it has always been not overly packed with people.

-With the close of another long string of Kevin Morby Euro-shows over the weekend comes significant news from Zurich that guitarist and singer Meg Duffy is leaving the band. Instagram statements by both Duffy and Morby celebrate the decision given Duffy’s great potential for artistic growth in her own blossoming musical project Hand Habits. Less certain is how Morby will fill the new hole in his band. Said Kevin via IG: “I have big plans for next year and those details will unfold in due time. But for now – I put the KM Singing Saw / City Music full band touring cycle to bed.”

The rareness of the feat makes horse racing’s triple crown a very special thing to witness.

I was up in section 3T for Justify’s wire job early Saturday evening at Belmont Park.

The giddy, deeply appreciative reaction that celebrated the beautiful chestnut colt’s successful completion of an extremely difficult task perhaps lacked the outright gusher of emotions that followed American Pharoah’s Belmont win in 2015. That one broke a 37-year crown drought.

Justify’s triple crown just three years later felt different to me but really no less precious. With zero racing foundation as a two-year-old, Justify debuted at Santa Anita on a Sunday in mid-February. He romped. And then won again easily – against a small, soft field three weeks later. He won the Santa Anita Derby impressively and was promptly made the Derby favorite despite a very tall historical barrier. No horse unraced at two had won the Derby since 1882.

Soupy slop didn’t slow him down in either the Derby or the Preakness and there weren’t a lot of tough foes waiting for him at Belmont. 90-thousand plus showed up in Elmont on a perfect day to see if he could handle the grueling distance of a mile and a half. A lot of people wore yellow, ridiculous-looking foam crowns handed out at the door.

A recorded version of Sinatra’s New York brought the Belmont field onto to the track led by the #1 horse Justify. His veteran jockey Mike Smith could be seen talking to Justify during the post parade. He also slithered his hand through Justify’s bushy mane.

As is Justify’s preferred running style, he burst to the front. Smith and Justify likely noticed erratic attempts by stablemate Restoring Hope to act protectively as his bodyguard in the race’s early stages. Anybody expecting anything different from Hope should consider the strategy next time. All is fair when it comes to giving boost to a crown try.

Smith perfectly calibrated Justify’s run after a quickish opening half-mile. He was able to get the son of Scat Daddy (who wasn’t exactly a marathon runner) into a gallop that kept him keeping on.

The crowd went wild. On the apron below, young adults threw programs and cups of beer high into the air and embraced at the sight of history.

Given my hard-to-shake devotion to the chase for a big payoff in concert with imagery of Justify’s dwindling margin as he reached the line in Baltimore, I bet against him.

The fan who placed a two dollar win bet on Justify in the Belmont got $3.60 back. Or maybe they just kept the ticket to show their grandkids some day when we go into another drought.

NYRA was again unable to properly host an event of this magnitude. Inbound trains got stuck at Jamaica for long periods. There were the customary sights of hot dogs being served without buns and $11 cans of beer being served warm. The women’s bathroom lines snaked longer than tolerable and escalators malfunctioned.

A ticket with Carsoni’s group of 20 in section 3T cost $125.

Dave, Marc and I dashed to the rail stop about three minutes after Justify won. We were looking for the clean LIRR getaway and got it. Whew.

I parted at Jamaica and headed to the Queens Night Market.

I never usually get to go to Night Market because I’m always working on Saturday nights. What a fantastic scene it was. Dozens of food vendors reflecting the crazy diversity of the borough set up shop weekly in the summer inside a western parcel of Flushing Meadows/Corona Park. There’s beer and wine. And music. You can smell it all as you walk down 111th Street from the 7 train.

All the price points are low which makes it a great vibe. It’s real. It’s accessible. You wouldn’t get this crowd at a food-based gathering probably anywhere else in the city. There’s no craft so I got a $5 Tiger beer and an awesome pork and cheese papusa. The lighting is dim and the amount of space the market uses is big. If you ever get a chance to go, go!

When I got home, I flipped on the radio to hear the end of Mets/Yanks. It was loss number eight in a row for the Mets. Suzyn interviewed the great Yankee rookie Miguel Andujar (pronounced “Ann-Dooo-Har) who hit another home run. The 23-year-old Dominican is ripping the cover off. He takes on interviews in English and incorporates a lot of selflessness into his views of the game. Suzyn finished the spot with a rolling R on “Gracias” and John Sterling took the pitch from Suzyn with another fun chuckle. “Remember Suzyn, The Du can Do.”