By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — With the advent of websites like Spreecast and UStream armchair quarterbacks everywhere can now take their opinions global. I see it all the time among Jets fans. They group a bunch of friends together and take their best shot putting together an online show they hope will draw interest.
Basically anyone with a camera on their computer can try it, and while it won’t be anywhere near as professionally produced as what WFAN does on the Yes Network, technology has afforded the neophyte an inexpensive way to get his or her voice heard “on the air,” so to speak.
Nick Spano was one of those guys, but now he’s taken it to another level. The West Harrison, N.Y. native has created an online show dedicated to the Jets. And before you say how good could it be? Imagine a scenario where five friends get together, talk about their favorite sports team and then bring on members of that team in force. Sounds familiar, right? It sounds like what any number of professional sports outlets do. But the difference here is “Flight 5 Live” is a completely fan-driven show, with no agenda other than to connect those with no voice to those who make the magic happen during the NFL season.
Every Friday night at 7 p.m. on the Zedalza Entertainment Network, Spano and his crew of diehards produce an online show that is 100 percent about the Jets, and it’s taking off as we speak.
As much as we live in a society that demands people take their best shot and then turns around and criticizes that effort until the cows come home, what the Flight 5 Live crew have done is create about as close to a real life NFL talk show online experience as you will find, this side of what the true professionals who get paid the big bucks do on a weekly basis.
To put it plainly, Flight 5 Live gets it right. Spano, his brother, William, Frank Vittorini, Brian Imbemba and Kristine Reese tackle the pressing issues going on around the Jets and they do it in a manner that doesn’t necessarily scream “fan,” even if those asking the questions and talking the talk are nothing but precisely that. They do it with a passion that displays both football knowledge and an undying devotion to the Jets and all they are supposed to stand for. These aren’t cheerleaders. These are five people who wouldn’t hesitate to bash the hell out of something the Jets have done, while on the flip side lauding what truly deserves to be praised.
Despite the fandom, there’s definite objectivity, which makes the show all that more attractive. And on top of that, each hour doesn’t just feature a group of people sitting around drinking beers and making jokes. Now, while I’m sure we may see some of that at some point, the strength of this show so far, in addition to the professionalism displayed by five individuals without any true on-camera sports journalism training, is the high quality of guests they have hooked and the ambition they’ve used to make the production different and always with something new to offer.
Flight 5’s creator and show moderator, Nick Spano, recently shared his vision with WFAN, where he used to be an intern. Nick is a force on Twitter and well-versed in all things Jets, despite the fact that he’s just 22 years old. And while he wasn’t around for doomsday days of the 1970s or the largely hit or miss era that was the 1980s, he’s got a very firm grasp on what the Jets have been about over the last 20-plus years.
Not long ago, Spano and Vittorini created a website called FloppingOut.com, a sort of clone of the extremely popular and successful Deadspin.com. The site looks at sports from a true entertainment perspective, as in how athletic competition often goes hand-in-hand with the TMZ-style culture we’re living in — lots of humor, lots of sarcasm and plenty of the bizarre.
Spano then expanded, opting to bring the idea of FloppingOut to a more visual medium. He hooked up with Zedalza out of Port Chester, N.Y., and created an NFL Draft show, which aired online on April 26. The response was positive enough to get him thinking of a show exclusively about the Jets.
“What better thing is there than to talk about the Jets? We thought about doing the entire NFL, but it was too broad. We narrowed it down to just the Jets and we wanted to basically be the main outlet to the fans on Twitter. We didn’t want to be a media head, preaching to them. We almost, like, wanted to give the fans a chance to call in and have their own show and they could interact any way they wanted,” Spano said.
“When we did FloppingOut our biggest traffic generator was video. With this we saw the production of it. This show isn’t a ‘serious’ Jets show; it’s just a Jets show.”
A Jets show that affords personalities that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to express themselves, to do just that. In addition to the guests and the banter, the show has skits and plenty of opportunity for fans to either call in or Skype in and offer their questions and opinions. And in case you miss it live, the entire show and each segment is quickly available on the website.
“We want the show to be more about content than us fooling around and personalities taking over. I mean, we’re funny, but it all happens due to the nature of the show. We want it to be about what’s really going on with the Jets. We feel our opinions are as informed as any out there and we want to give the fans the opportunity to interact and express their opinions,” Spano said.
The rest of the Flight 5 Live crew is made up of individuals from differing backgrounds, but each has that one thing in common, their love for that football team that wears green and white and, more often than not, always drives its fans crazy.
Vittorini works in social media. William Spano is an assistant golf pro at a Westchester County club. Imbemba is a CPA in New Jersey. Reese is a Broadway actress who also writes for various sports-related websites.
But when they get together, be it on Twitter or in the Port Chester studio, they morph into that which they truly are — serious Jets fans with solutions.
“To be able to talk about something that you love and being provided medium to do so, is a dream,” Imbemba said. “I’m having fun. I don’t consider it work at all. I get to sit around with few friends and talk about something I’m passionate about.
“I think most other shows out there are agenda-driven or advertisement-driven. We’re not out there to steer the discussion in any direction or spark a war of words. It’s about giving the fans that voice that they so sorely lacked. The one thing that is amazing is social media connected all of us. Twitter kind of hatched the show.”
A show is only as good as the guests it showcases. Flight 5 Live, though only having done two official shows, is already light years ahead of where it should be, mostly due to the fact that it gets the guests — and then some. Just last week, the crew landed Jets legend Curtis Martin and spoke to him at length about his impending induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’m always very confident,” Nick Spano said. “There’s no way I wasn’t going to get him. I knew he didn’t do interviews anymore, but I was going to go after him like he was the eighth defensive lineman on the practice squad. I wanted to treat it like he needed us more than we needed him. It was a confidence booster. Then he says yes, and I was like, wow, what this will do for the show. Now, why would a guy like Joe McKnight say no to us when Curtis says yes? It did so much for the show.”
The crew has also had Daily News beat writer Manish Mehta and the Newark Star-Ledger’s Mike Garafolo on and has a slew of confirmed guests scheduled for the coming weeks, including Jets DeMario Davis, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sione Pouha, Stephen Hill, Terrence Ganaway and Marcus Dixon.
And, yes, Nick Spano said he is talking to Tim Tebow’s representatives.
Flight 5 Live is able to do all this because it has been successful getting out its root message. Like Imbemba said earlier, this is a show with no serve-many-a-master agenda. The allure of players saying yes to appearing has everything to do with the fan-player dynamic, which is often a very difficult bridge to gap. However, players talk all the time about how much the fans mean to them. Well, if that’s truly the case then what Flight 5 Live offers is the perfect vehicle for all involved. In a way, it forces the athlete to put his money where his mouth is in this regard.
“In today’s age of social media, being what it is, you need to look at somebody like Chad OchoCinco. Love him or hate him, he has made himself more valuable by being available to fans,” Reese said. “Especially for the young guys, they all want to increase their imprint, make their brand better. They are increasing their value to advertisers, to people. In today’s world that’s very important. By coming on a show like this they are helping themselves and they are sending a message to the fan base without it being filtered by someone else, be them media members or their own team’s PR staff, which can sometimes be a bad thing.
“Players are responsible for what they say to the fans. This show affords them the arena to speak about just about anything they want to the fans directly as opposed to someone’s agenda. For Jets fans that’s very important because they get sick and tired of reading writers’ opinions injected into news reports. Fans get the opportunity here to get to know these guys as people, not just football players. That’s not something they usually get to do.”
As the lone female on the crew, Reese said she wouldn’t have it any other way. She said she sees a responsibility that comes with talking NFL in a “man’s world.” Nick Spano said that’s precisely why he chose her.
“I saw Kristine on Spreecasts and I wanted to bring the female aspect into this. Female Jets fans would be more likely to interact with us if we had a woman who knows her stuff on the show. Plus, she’s used to being on camera. It was one of the easiest decisions I had to make, bringing aboard Kristine,” he said.
“One of the reasons why I got into the whole business of blogging about football was to inspire other women to feel comfortable to throw themselves into that man’s world,” Reese added. “You know, the belief is that football is for guys. Maybe I can make more women feel comfortable to go to the bar and talk football with the guys. I just wanted to be a representative. At the same time, I feel like I can keep up with the guys and they want me around because of that.”
And, according to Nick Spano, the “conversation” about the Jets will continue for the foreseeable future. He said he hopes to one day draw the interest of major networks, but for now is more than happy to continue this show and, with the help of his associates, make it become all that it can be.
At the end of the day, fans, not the media, make up the biggest collection of critics in professional sports. Flight 5 Live won’t succeed or fail based on what a newspaper columnist thinks. It will move forward or backward based on the opinions of the general population.
And right now, the fans seem to think there’s a whole lot to like here.
“We’re just going to deliver content to all Jets fans and NFL fans, for that matter, you won’t get anywhere else, while also making you laugh, much like a sketch comedy show. It will be kind of like if the cast of Seinfeld were obsessed football freaks,” William Spano said.
“When it comes down to it it’s one human being communicating with another. I’m very comfortable. It’s like me having a conversation with one of my friends,” Imbemba added.
And the public, including the players, is getting the Flight 5 Live message. It seems most “can’t wait” for their chance to join the party.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
Do you plan on watching this show? Have you seen it before? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …