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Mark Packer Q&A Part 1

Matt Fishman

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I have to say that I have never had a Q&A or part of one that is one question and a 1400 word answer. That’s what makes Mark Packer the incredible talk show host that he is.

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Pack or “Packman” as he’s called by his fans and friends is the most incredible storyteller I have ever come across in my 20+ years in radio. On the air or off the air Mark tells great stories. In this three part Q&A I’ll try to do these stories justice.

I caught up with Mark earlier this week between his two (yes-two) daily shows on SiriusXM. Mark hosts “ACC This Morning” with Wes Durham from 7-10am on SiriusXM’s ACC Channel 371 and “Off Campus” from 4-7pm solo on ESPNU on SiriusXM 84. 

Matt: I had always assumed since you’re Billy’s kid (Billy Packer) that you had always wanted to be in broadcasting and had always been in broadcasting.  Not until we worked together did I learn about how you ended up hosting a show in Charlotte. Can you tell us that story? 

Pack: I had ZERO interest in being a broadcaster, but I loved the business aspect of broadcasting. My background was really more in putting together networks, announcers, marketing plans, and sales opportunities. I loved all of that, but I never really had any interest in going on the radio or television. 

How I got on the radio full-time is such a fluke but it’s also a message of why you try to do as many things as you can and meet as many people as you can because you never know when that can come back full circle. What I meant by that is that in the early 90s I worked one year at the “Blockbuster Bowl” which was run by (Blockbuster CEO) Wayne Huizenga and Raycom Sports.  I really didn’t have a huge interest in being in the bowl business but I thought it would be kinda neat to do it. It was a great experience because I met so many incredible people.

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One of the people I met was Terry Hanson. Terry had been an executive with Turner for years and years and he was a big cheese with Raycom Sports at the time. Fast forward six or seven years and I get a phone call from Terry Hanson. I was in Charlotte and Terry was doing some consulting work for this new Sports Talk radio station–WFNZ in Charlotte.  Terry lines up this meeting for me with Mike Kellogg who was coming in from Legendary WEEI in Boston. Mike was leaving to start the WEEI of Charlotte.  Charlotte really desperately needed sports talk radio.

I show up at Mike Kellogg’s office and he’s not there. I’m sitting there in an empty office. Kellogg comes walking in a couple minutes late, typical Bostonian, he’s got his Dunkin Donuts Coffee in his hand talking 200 Miles an hour. Kellogg says, “Hey I understand you’re Mark Packer. I want you to meet Matt Pinto. Do you know Matt?” I say, “I have no idea who he is.” Matt at the time was the afternoon host. So he calls Matt in and he says “Oh great you guys get together. Pack I want you to come back later this afternoon and you and Matt do an hour together. And I gotta go.” And he gets up and walks out of the office. 

The meeting lasted four minutes and to this day might be the worst business meeting I’ve ever had EVER! Pinto looks at me and I look at him and Matt says, “Well I guess I’ll see you this afternoon at 3.” And he gets up and walks out. Now I’m still sitting in the office by myself. I’ve been there four minutes. I thought I was gonna have a marketing meeting talking about opportunities. Next thing I know, I’m supposed to come back later in the same day to go on the radio!!

So I get home and my wife says, “You just left. Surely you didn’t have the meeting already?” 

I said, “I did. It was the worst meeting I ever had.” 

She asked, “What are you gonna do?”

I said, “I guess I’m gonna go back and go on the radio.” 

She says, “What do you know about talking on the radio?” 

I said “Nothing.” 

She says, “What are you gonna talk about?” 

I said, “I have no earthly idea!”

I read all the sports pages and get online and have like five or six things I’ll talk about. I have no idea how this is gonna go. I head right back to the radio station later that afternoon. Nobody is there to greet me. I find this guy and he tells me where the studio is. So I head down there and Matt Pinto is there. Matt says, “Perfect timing. Put on your headset..3…2…1..” and we’re on the air!

And the next thing I know an hour goes by in about two minutes. Seriously, I couldn’t believe how fast the hour went by. So the hour’s up and Pinto looks at me and says “Hope you enjoyed it. Have a good day!” and I looked at the clock and I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to leave.

Now Pinto’s kicking me out and I get up and walk out. Like anybody else you want some feedback one way or the other that you either did a good job or you sucked and there was nobody there.

Now I’m really hot! I’m thinking ‘I’ve come to this radio station twice in one day. I had the worst business meeting that lasted four minutes. Now I come back and go on the air for an hour. There’s nobody here to say great job or terrible job.’ Now I walk to the car and I am LIVID!!!

So I get in the car and drive home. Well I’m thinking at least my wife is gonna say, “Hey, you did a great job honey!” And so I get home and ask her, “How did I do?” She said, “I wasn’t listening.” Now I’m really HOT!! 

Later that night Terry Hanson (the consultant) calls and I was so thrilled because I just want to rip into Terry for wasting my day. I tell him he’s out of his mind. I can’t believe I went to that stupid radio station twice today and I hang up. 

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My wife was listening to it and says, “You’re an Idiot. How crazy can you be? Did you have a good time on the air?”

I said “I loved it! It was great!”

“And they’re calling you to offer you a job, right?” She says.

“I don’t want to get my time wasted”

She says, “He wouldn’t have called you back if they didn’t think you did a good job!”

A week goes by and Hanson calls me back and says, “Have you calmed down yet?” I said “yes”. “We want to offer you the job. To be on the air. We’re going to put you on the air from 12-3.” I took the job because I knew my wife was right. I was on with a guy by the name of Sandy Penner who they brought in from Philadelphia. We were Packman and Penner 12-3 for about six weeks. I could still do my sports marketing in the morning and afternoon and do the show in the middle of the day.

I get a phone call one night from the boss, Mike Kellogg. He tells me that Matt Pinto (afternoon host) is leaving to be the play by play man for the Dallas Mavericks. We’re going to do a national search. I thought, that’s fine–I had daycare figured out and had my work and show figured out. They did a national search for about a week. Then I got a phone call from Mike Kellogg in the middle of the night:

Kellogg: “Hey I wanted to let you know that we got our guy for the afternoon show!”

Packer: “That’s cool. I’m sure whoever he or she is will do a great job!”

Kellogg: “Don’t you want to know who it is?”

Packer: “I really don’t care. Whoever it is I’m sure they’ll do a great job and I look forward to working with them!”

Kellogg: “I think it’s important for you to know who it is.”

Packer: “You’re probably right. Who is it?”

Kellogg: “It’s you!”

Packer: “I’m not taking that job. You’re outta your damn mind. I’ve got my whole life figured out with the show from 12-3.”

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Kellogg: “I don’t want to hear about it because on Monday you’re on the air from 3-7pm”

That was the start of “Primetime with the Packman” and that show exploded in ratings and syndication and the rest is history. When people say “How do you get into radio?” I always roll my eyes and say, “do you really want to hear this story?” because I have the most unconventional means to get into radio.

The point of all of it though is that you meet so many interesting people along the way you never know when that can help you open another door. Without the relationship with Terry Hanson and Raycom Sports at the Blockbuster Bowl six or seven years earlier, that would never have happened for me in radio. Never, ever, ever!

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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