Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992 when he graduated from Boston University. He has spent time with a number of media outlets with various roles for each from beat reporter to now radio and television host. He has become one of the most prominent members of the Boston sports media. Like him or not, for every major Boston sports story or game everyone wants to know what Felger has to say. Felger celebrated two milestones this week, one being the three year anniversary of 98.5 The Sports Hub and also the 5,000th Sports Tonight Show on Comcast Sportsnet. Boston Sports Media Watch had the chance to catch up with Felger for a Q&A on a wide variety of subjects.
BSMW: What do you miss most about being a beat writer and covering a team on a day-to-day basis? Do you miss the writing side of journalism?
MF: There was nothing better than breaking a story in the newspaper (i.e., the actual thing you held in your hands over morning coffee), which was still possible during most of my time as a beat reporter. Now, of course, that rarely happens. So the thing I miss the most doesn’t really exist any more.
Otherwise, I liked this time of a year a lot on the Pats beat. I thought that if you went to those training camp practices every day, paid attention and knew what to look for, you could learn about the team. Once they got out of camp and closed practices, forget it. Everyone was back in the dark. But right now was one of the few times you could provide true insight. Covering hockey was great because of the people– the players were mostly humble and fun and there were characters like Pat Burns and Harry Sinden who I enjoyed even as they crushed me. The hockey culture is unique. And the games were great.
But to say I “miss” any of that would be an overstatement. I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now. I don’t miss writing.
BSMW: Do you enjoy working full-time in radio and TV more than when you worked in print? Has not being on a beat/covering games allowed you to voice your opinion on players more than you would if you were still covering games?
MF: There were many days when I categorically did not enjoy being a beat reporter. There are very few days when I don’t enjoy commentating on radio or TV. The radio, in particular, is a blast. There’s nothing else like it.
As for the voicing of my opinion — yes, of course, there’s more freedom now. And that’s essential, because I pretty much can’t put a sock in it, so to speak. It ultimately made me a pretty average beat guy. If I was doing a report card in the Herald and Joe Andruzzi (one of the best guys to ever come through there) had a bad game, I couldn’t downplay it just because I was friendly with him. Or if I felt the Pats should have paid to keep Deion Branch or Adam Vinatieri, I wouldn’t hesitate to criticize the team even though Bill Belichick wrote the epilogue for my book or the Krafts had been good to me (both true). So relationships were frayed, and I grew to hate the politics of the job.
This is hardly unique to me, by the way. If you want sources, you pretty much have to play favorites. That’s not a criticism of reporters who do it. It’s just the nature of the job. It’s a hard, hard thing to pull off. I’m a heck of a lot more comfortable coming at it from the outside and just saying what I think.
BSMW: What is your take on being labeled a “DB”? Does it bother you at all? Is it what you’re trying to be? Have you always been this way?
MF: You mean, was I born a douche bag? No. I’d say it’s a skill I’ve developed over time.
Seriously, it doesn’t bother me, but it’s also not what I’m trying to be. I’m not trying to be anything other than myself and, hopefully, entertaining. How it actually comes across to listeners is up to them.
BSMW: Having worked at WEEI for some time, what do you see are the biggest differences between WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub? Has there been a time where what Felger & Mazz and 98.5 in general has done has surprised you, in terms of growing so quickly? Is there something you’d like to see your show to do in the near future to help it grow?
MF: I’ll pass on most of the first part of your question, except this: When Tony and I came on the air (exactly three years ago, Aug. 13, 2009), I said we would be different because we wouldn’t be held hostage by the relationships we had. Too often when I listen to sports commentary (the radio, ESPN, etc), I feel punches are being pulled because of a friendship, or a business relationship, or a broadcast rights agreement, or a weekly interview segment, or whatever. Just too much protecting of the brands and the people. I like to think Tony and I avoid that better than most. We try to go after everyone the same way. And I think the Hub and Comcast deserve a lot of credit for allowing it. Comcast doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind on the Celtics and the NBA, and the Hub doesn’t prevent me from going after the Bruins or NFL owners. That’s rare. We’re lucky.
As for the how quickly the competition heated up on the radio, I was surprised by it. I thought if we were lucky, that by Year 5 we’d have made it a ball game. Instead, we starting winning in 2010 and were No. 1 in the demo for a year starting in the spring of 2011 (the only sports show to do that since we came on). By this spring, it was actually treated like a failure when we finished third. We also got the simulcast deal in place. All that happened within three years. So, yes, I was not expecting all that so soon.
BSMW: Why aren’t you on Twitter? Will you ever be on Twitter? Do you think it is good or bad for sports journalism?
MF: Excellent question. Laziness. No other reason. I have nothing against it. It seems like a great tool for news events (like a trade deadline), and as a marketing vehicle, it’s not just the future, it’s the present. So you can add “dumb” to “lazy.” I should be on there.
BSMW: Where do you see yourself in the coming years? Have you ever considered moving to a national platform?
MF: No one has ever asked me to move to a national platform, so I’ve never really considered it. Basically, if I can do what I’m doing now for the rest of my professional life (on the radio every day in Boston; some TV at night), I would consider myself extremely lucky. In fact, I’m sure they will have to tell me to leave, not the other way around.