Jason Benetti on White Sox contract talks: ‘It was kind of a pain’

Sox executive Brooks Boyer saw the talks differently. “There really wasn’t anything that sticks out that was bothersome to me,” he said.

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Jason Benetti and Bill Walton.

Jason Benetti’s connection with Bill Walton helped the White Sox land the loquacious NBA Hall of Famer for a game broadcast in 2019 in Anaheim, Calif.

Joe Reedy/AP

Don’t get Jason Benetti wrong. He’s thrilled to be back with Steve Stone in the White Sox’ TV booth. He’s excited to work again with the NBC Sports Chicago production crew he calls “amazing.” And he still feels the tug of Sox fandom from his youth.

But the run-up to the announcement last week that the Sox had picked up the multiyear option on Benetti’s contract wasn’t what he had hoped.

“The really good news is we got somewhere good,” Benetti said. “It was kind of a pain, really. There were some things that we had to get through that I thought were silly, and I’m sure they thought some of the stuff that I was talking about might’ve been silly. But we got there in the end.”

Had they not, other teams were ready to pounce. According to sources, the Braves were watching Benetti’s situation after losing longtime voice Chip Caray to the Cardinals. Instead, Benetti returns for his eighth season with the Sox alongside Stone, who’s back for his 16th.

But there was a disconnect during negotiations. Brooks Boyer, the Sox’ senior vice president in charge of revenue and marketing, saw the talks differently.

“I don’t think there were any complications to it,” Boyer said. “It really wasn’t much of a negotiation because we had picked up the option. It was just ironing out how we put [his] national schedule in [our] local schedule. So there really wasn’t anything that sticks out that was bothersome to me.”

The biggest topic in the talks initially was Benetti’s new national schedule with Fox. He’ll call his first slate of MLB games for the network this season, and that will take him off Sox local broadcasts for a number of Saturdays. In the fall, Benetti figures to miss some games to call college football on Fox.

Benetti said he has been mindful of the effects those commitments have on the Sox. During the 60-game season in 2020, he called just one college football game for ESPN and didn’t miss a Sox game for it. In 2021, he gave a game back to ESPN because the Sox wanted him on the mic at the end of the season.

“I know that based on what Hawk [Harrelson] did over all those years, the team’s preference would be for me to be there for every game, and I get that,” Benetti said. “And I truly do appreciate that they were able to get to a place where I can do both of these things. I think it’s mutually beneficial.”

“We’ve been very supportive and excited for Jason that he has grown his profile,” said Boyer, who last year allowed Benetti to call Peacock’s Sunday games. “We certainly get residual value for that. Jason’s connection got us the Bill Walton game [in 2019], which gave us a ton of national exposure.”

But the sides had settled in the fall on the number of games Benetti could miss, and his contract wasn’t finalized until Jan. 23. Boyer said the team figures out most broadcasters’ deals around the end of a season, then finalizes them in January.

“I didn’t think much of it. I don’t think anybody thought much of it,” Boyer said. “The reality is with our guys, they’re part of the family. I have a trusting relationship with [Benetti and Stone], and they’ve got a trusting relationship with us. It was just a matter of getting our inside general counsel to draw it up.”

What’s unique about the Sox’ negotiations with broadcasters is that they’re done with the broadcasters, not agents. Benetti has joked that he feels like a player in arbitration. Boyer disagreed with the comparison but stood by the Sox’ way of doing business.

“Whether it’s [executive vice president] Kenny Williams or [general manager] Rick Hahn, they don’t use agents,” he said. “We’re compensating them; we have a partnership with them. There’s never been a need to have any sort of outside entity come in and negotiate these things.”

But if there were, maybe Benetti wouldn’t feel how he feels. You’d think an organization wouldn’t want its front-facing talent on the front lines of contract talks. Benetti and Stone represent the Sox for three hours a night. There’s no sense risking the quality of one of the best broadcasts in baseball.

“I’ll be honest, there were points where I was really frustrated,” Benetti said. “Because I think the work has been strong and I appreciate the heck out of the fans and I have loved the Sox for all my life. I just thought it would be easier. But just because it wasn’t easier doesn’t mean it didn’t get done.

“Where I have put myself, totally honestly, the place I am is we got it done, and that means something. It means both sides wanted it to happen.”

Remote patrol

Former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler, who announced his retirement from baseball this week, joined Marquee Sports Network as a studio analyst. He made a promising debut Wednesday on “Cubs 360” and mostly will contribute on pregame and postgame shows.

Marquee announced it will carry Chicago Hounds Rugby matches. The expansion team joins Major League Rugby this season. Marquee will air its inaugural match at 1 p.m. Feb. 18 at Old Glory DC. The Hounds’ home matches will be played at SeatGeek Stadium.

ESPN will celebrate Michael Jordan on Friday, calling 2/3/23 “Jordan Day.” The network will feature content across multiple studio shows, and ACC Network will air four North Carolina games starring Jordan from 1981, ’83 and ’84.

ESPN 1000 and The Score will begin airing spring-training baseball Feb. 25. The Score will have the Cubs’ opener against the Giants, and ESPN will have the Sox’ opener against the Padres. First pitch for both games is 2:05 p.m.

NBC Sports announced its “Big Ten Saturday Night” crew of play-by-play voice Noah Eagle, analyst Todd Blackledge and sideline reporter Kathryn Tappen. Starting Sept. 2, NBC will air a Big Ten football game in prime time every week of the regular season.

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