There are a long list of people that helped Carl Dukes get where he is today. He doesn’t want you to forget that. But he also knows he isn’t one of Atlanta’s most successful sports radio hosts by accident either.
Carl and his partner Mike Bell go way back. Their relationship began the way most radio guys from different markets strike up a friendship. They each found themselves showing up at the same events as the other and going out to dinner. They made each other laugh. That turned into texting about stories and ideas, and that finally turned into Mike asking Carl in 2009 if he thought they could have as much fun on air as they do off air.
At the time, Carl was working in Houston. Mike was at the now defunct 790 the Zone in Atlanta and partnered with former Georgia linebacker David Pollack, who obviously turned out just fine.
Carl told Mike they could absolutely make it work on air, but he wasn’t ready to move quite then. He wouldn’t be ready to leave his native Texas for another three years.
It was in 2012 that Carl Dukes’s agent told him about another opportunity in Atlanta. This one was with CBS Radio. The company was flipping Triple-A outlet 92.9 Dave FM to a sports station, and the station already had the Falcons’ play-by-play rights, so they wouldn’t necessarily be completely starting from scratch.
Carl met with all the relevant people and was sold on their vision. He and his family were ready to move halfway across the country, but first he had to make a phone call. He had to tell Mike Bell that he was coming to Atlanta after all, just not how Bell had planned it.
Years later, after a number of lineup changes at what became 92.9 the Game and the eventual dissolve of 790 the Zone, there was an opening for the two friends to FINALLY work together. Carl is thankful it happened the way it did and says that professionally, he has never been happier.
When I was in Atlanta earlier this month, I told Carl to meet me for breakfast at a place called Michael’s Cafe. It’s a truly unremarkable breakfast counter right around the corner from State Farm Arena, where he needed to be for the Hawks’ media day festivities.
We shared so-so eggs and truly awful hash browns while he told me the detailed story of how he came to town, why he now devotes multiple segments a week to soccer, and how he and Bell came to have their faces on a beer can.
DEMETRI: So when did you come to Atlanta?
CARL: 2012. My agent contacted me and said “CBS is looking to do an all-sports station in Atlanta. Are you interested?” And I laughed and said “Come on!” because things were going really good for me in Houston. We had built a really good brand there, so I said “I don’t know,” but he told me to just talk to them.
So, Rick Caffey, who is our market manager here, he runs probably the most prominent urban station in the country, V103. And Terry Foxx, who is our program director now.
D: He was the original PD too, right?
C: Right. The original PD. He had come down from Pittsburgh. He had done a start up for them in Pittsburgh and that was successful, so they were bringing him to Atlanta now.
I’ve done two start ups. This would be my second one. I can guarantee I won’t do another one. For those that don’t understand it or don’t get how tough it is, it is such an uphill battle, especially when you have established stations in the market.
So it’s summer of 2012. I’m talking with Rick. I am talking with Terry. I am talking with Chris Olivero at the time. They were convinced that what the plan was was going to work, but they needed the right people.
I think I came out here two separate times to meet between the time we actually started the station, which was October 24.
D: 92.9 was a Triple A station right? But it had the Falcons as I recall.
C: Correct. And you know the thing there was that they just couldn’t recycle the audience, which is something I think a lot of music stations run into. You have rights to a particular team, it doesn’t matter what team, but particularly with football. You see these huge numbers on a Sunday where people are listening and paying attention. Monday through Friday they couldn’t come anywhere close to the same thing.
Rick was here. I think he is the one that did that deal. That was part of the process. We want to be able to create the number one sports station, not just in Atlanta, but in the South. So when you hear that is the plan, and I met the people I would be working for, it made the decision a lot easier than I thought it would be.
D: Was it just the idea of leaving Texas or was it coming to Atlanta that was your initial hold up?
C: Well, the hardest thing to do in our business is give up brand equity in a market you’ve been in for a long time. When you move to another market, and I say this with all due respect to my friends that have had success and stayed in one market for a long time, but that is the hardest thing is to pick up and leave somewhere you’ve been successful.
So, knowing that, you really have to weigh “do I really want to give up all of that” and knowing you can probably stay forever versus “do I want a new challenge?” For me, it was being ready for a new challenge. I wanted to accomplish something most people thought was unattainable at the time.
You have to remember when we started our radio station, 790 the Zone still existed. There was 680 the Fan, which is still here. Two stations had a nice place in the market at the time. You’re not only coming into a market where they have established talent, but for a guy like myself, you come in to a place where you’re going to be hosting afternoon drive and people are going “Who is this guy? What is he all about?”
The process of the audience becoming familiar with you and liking you, that takes time. We’ve gone from 0 ratings to this month, which I’m very proud of, we’re number one with a ten share. That’s never happened at the radio station. You’re talking about sports. I know you look around the country, Demetri. Go find me a lot of ten shares in sports radio.
I’m very proud of where we are right now and where we’re going to continue to go. Plus, my wife was very behind it. She had a great gig in Texas as well. It was just a family decision, but once we made the decision to come it was all about winning.
D: When you say you’ve got a 10 share right now, what is driving that in Atlanta? Is it the Braves in the postseason, is it the Falcons, or in Atlanta is it still everything taking a backseat to SEC football?
(Carl pauses as he tries to find the right answer)
D: Sorry, I don’t mean for that to sound like I am completely dismissing the possibility that people just like you.
C:No, not at all, but you know, that is part of it. I think we have created a show people want to be a part of and we connect with our audience in a completely different way with our beer, which I guess we’ll talk about in a second.
I think that the Falcons and certainly Georgia’s success, and then throw in what happened this year with the Braves, which is unexpected. It is almost a perfect storm. But I also think the elements of what we do everyday matter. You know, this audience has been building. We’ve seen consistent 6’s and 7’s in the ratings. That’s where we were living, so to see a 10 it’s shocking. I think we were always going to get there, but we never thought we were going to get there this soon.
D: You’re like the Braves, a year ahead of schedule.
D: This probably goes to the elements on the show and also what you are doing off the show. Sure the Braves are good again and the Falcons are good again, but listeners aren’t coming because they want to hear about that. They are coming to your show because they want to hear what Carl has to say about that.
C: Right. I think that’s the essence of all great shows. When you meet your listeners and they say “I had to tune in Monday to hear what you were going to say about that” or “I can’t believe we lost that way and I couldn’t wait to hear what you were going to say,” that’s really what it is all about. That’s the connection!
And the thing is, it’s not about if they agree with you or not. They want to hear you. I think that is a big part of what has been going on for us lately.
D: Do you think you and Mike Bell could have had this same success together if you had come to join him when he first asked you back when he was on 790? The reason I ask is what the situation was. You would have been replacing a Georgia football legend, and I wonder if there might have been some pushback from listeners along the lines of “Hang on, Pollock is our guy. Who is this guy? He’s not a Bulldog. He’s not from the market.”
Is finally getting together at The Game kind of a leg up? Now you’re just two guys talking sports.
C: Absolutely. This is something people may or may not think about, but when you talk about timing, to me that’s the stuff they’re talking about. I don’t know if we would have had this kind of success. I can tell you the chemistry and the way we work together now, that would have been there, but the success we’re having now? I don’t know if we could have done that at 790.
That gets back to understanding “is this the right time for me to make this move?”.
C: Right? Sometimes you want something so much that you want to continue to push forward. It’s why guys in our business take jobs where the timing may not be right. For me, in 2012, the timing was right.
I was ready for something new. I felt confident in Chris Olivera, Rick Caffey, and Terry Foxx, who knew the plan, both what we were going to do and how we were going to accomplish it. And on top of that, they had the commitment. That is a big deal. I’m not coming in and then 18 months later I have to worry about them changing the radio station.
Ultimately, it’s just God’s plan. I come in and here I am working with the guy that we wanted to work with each other for a very long time.
D: Was there ever a concern when 92.9 was going through so many lineup changes, not that you made the wrong decision, but that CBS was going to feel like they made the wrong decision even trying this format?
C: Well, you know, you are never going to know what corporate is thinking, right? So, of course I knew there were going to be struggles. A lot of people told me not to take this job, and every conversation was built on a misnomer.
Atlanta is a great sports market. People here are passionate, and all of the ownership groups are dedicated. You look at Liberty Media. I know they have caught a lot of heat with the Braves, but you go to Sun Trust Park and look at the Battery in Cobb County. It’s really amazing.
A lot of people were telling me “Dukes, don’t take this job. You’re gonna be out of a job in a year.” It was all based on this idea that Atlanta is a bad sports city.
The ironic thing for me is that my mom is from Opelika (Alabama). My dad was born in Griffin, Georgia. We used to visit my grandmother in Griffin, Georgia. I remember going to Fulton County Stadium as a kid when we’d go see Grandma.
It’s ironic, I guess for me to now be in this city having the success that I am, but I am defending this city because being here, being in it, and seeing how people respond to these teams, it’s a great sports city.
So back to people saying “Dukes, don’t take the job,” the argument was they have two sports stations already and they don’t even have the passion.
D: Were either of them, 680 or 790, seen as the unbeatable monster?
C: I would tell you that 790 was more recognized. 680 has been around longer, but 790 was the one with the buzz about it.
They had the 2 Live Stews on at the time. For the size of that station, they weren’t a big station, they were known around the country.
D: So no one was saying “Don’t go to Atlanta because the Zone is there” or “You can’t compete with the Fan”?
C: Well, no, they were, because the idea was that there is no way Atlanta can support three sports stations. Everyone was looking at who is going to be the odd man out.
As far as what corporate was thinking, I don’t know if they were ever looking at us and going “We’re three years in. We need to pull the plug.” That is what I was saying in these conversations. We need three years fo this to work. That’s the time frame. If you have a show you really think can be a winner three years, that is when you’ll start to see a turn.
For a radio station, especially a start up, for me I knew I needed to be out in the community. For Atlanta especially, that is big. They want to see you. They need to love on you. That’s real. That is where their passion comes from.
If you’re a Falcons fan, you’re a Falcons fan through and through. If you’re a Hawks fan, yeah, they’re down, but the passionate fans are there waiting for them to turn it around. Bulldog fans have been waiting forever to see this, to see where they are now and wondering if they can compete for championships year after year.
I’ll tell you this though, one of the weirdest, but greatest things to ever happen to the city is Atlanta United. This has been unbelievable. To see the fandom is nuts.
D: You’re the flagship for the team right?
D: And the flagship for the Falcons too.
D: Okay, so with a vested interest in both, what are you thinking when you hear Arthur Blank go on a radio broadcast and say “Yeah, this is probably a more fun environment than a Falcons game”?
C: (laughing) Well, it is.
D: What kind of topic is that the next day?
C: If you’ve gone to a United game, and I would tell this to anyone around the country, we have the most passionate environment in soccer. I’m not just saying that for MLS. Look around the world. The attendance numbers Atlanta United is putting up compares with Arsenal and Man U. I mean, it’s bananas! If you’ve gone to one of these games, you’ll see it. The supporter groups are incredible.
Big shout out to the supporter groups that have been a part of Dukes & Bell, because we supported this from the jump. A lot of people, like with anything, were “Soccer? Nah nah nah.” It’s been huge!
D: The first time, before I started looking at shots of the crowd for United games, that I realized this was a thing was that episode of Atlanta where Paper Boy goes to the barber shop. There’s an Atlanta United flag hanging on the wall.
I thought “oh, well that’s an Atlanta barber shop with something for every team in town on the walls.” Then, in back-to-back episodes after that, there is someone in the background – clearly a crowd shot – wearing Atlanta United gear. That’s when it kinda hit me that Atlanta is buying into the MLS. It must be a big deal here.
C: It is a cultural phenomenon. The reason is that Atlanta has a lot of transplants. The United is all of ours. It’s not a team moving from another city. It’s not a sport where everyone that moves here is bringing their own allegiance, so they take on United as a second team.
We saw this from the foundation. It’s for everyone. It’s such a kid friendly and family friendly thing, that you’ve got fans in every county. You’ve got people in the ‘burbs, people from Outside the Perimeter. And maybe you know this, but when you have people coming from Outside the Perimeter, that’s huge.
Maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with the question, but it gets back to what Atlanta is and what it has become as a sports city. So, getting back to an earlier question, I never worried about “will the station pull the plug?” or “was this the right decision” as we went through personality changes and lineup changes. You’re always working to get the right mix. Once you find it, you’ll see the spike. I think that is what has happened with sports in this city and as a result what has happened at 92.9.
D: So with United’s success and its place in the Atlanta sports pantheon, is there hard-core soccer talk? How do Dukes & Bell talk about soccer?
C: That’s an interesting question. At first, we were very cautious, because there are going to be a lot of novices that don’t know the sport’s culture and don’t know the lingo. So we started very general and broad, but as we started to see these crowds and the investment in the team, you start realize there are a lot of hardcore soccer fans. It’s not just guys saying “I’ll pop in to see what’s going on.” So, you have to approach it like football, the NBA or college football.
There are topics people want to discuss. They know the players now. It is as much of a conversation as anything else. We have soccer segments throughout the week on the show that people are interested in.
We get a lot of clicks from things we put on the website. We get a lot of reaction from anything soccer-related, which is something that if you had told me two years ago when we were with Arthur Blank for the kickoff party and we were trying to sell “Hey, we’re getting a soccer team,” if you had said then “in two and a half years you’ll be doing soccer segments,” I’d have said “yeah, whatever!”.
D: You would have assumed if that was the case, the team is paying for those segments.
C: Right, but that is what has happened. It has helped us so much. It’s from the standpoint of those fans are a younger demo. They spend money and traditionally they may not have come to the radio station.
They weren’t going to hear us, but now they’re coming to the station and Dukes & Bell are talking about their favorite thing. So it’s “Oh, I’m going to stay here and see what these guys have to say!”.
D: I hate to do the “how long have you been a black quarterback” question, but I do want to ask you about being a Black guy on the air in Atlanta and working for a Black PD.
C: (Laughing). Oh, it matters!
D: Not only does it matter, but was there an appeal of the chance to work for a Black program director?
C: Yeah, absolutely there was.
D: It seems like for Atlanta, that was a very wise move on CBS’s part, because like you said, V103 is this monster station, the make up of Atlantans is very different from the people that move here because they got a job with CNN.
C: Oh sure. There was a certain appeal to come work for a black program director, and for that matter, a black market manager. First of all, those things are rare in our business. That’s just a fact.
We’re all pushing, those of us that are in the positions we’re in, to create this opportunities. I feel like part of our success is to open more doors.
D: Even yourself, it’s amazing that you are in a rare position. You’re a black man on in a major market, behind the lead mic everyday. You’re not a former player. You’re not a former coach. You’re just a really good host. There aren’t a lot of people like that in sports radio.
C: Yeah, that’s correct. That’s the thing. There are a lot of former ballplayers that get jobs and they turn into really good hosts, but you’re absolutely right. This is a rarity.
There was an appeal, but I’ll say this. If Terry wasn’t qualified, he wouldn’t be here. He did the startup in Pittsburgh and took it to number one. He did this startup. Now we’re number one. He does a phenomenal job. The appeal to me was always about working for the right people.
I’ve worked for some great people in this business. Ken Charles put me on The Sports Animal in Houston when it launched. He recognized my talent and wasn’t afraid to take a chance on me. Brian Purdy gave me a shot years ago, and he’s now the market manager and one of the top guys in Dallas. John McGainey, who’s an all-star, Dave Tepper, who just took a job in Denver, Eddie Martini in Houston, and none of those guys are African-American, but they believe in me and believed in what I could do. There’s a uniqueness in that.
Some of those guys were told I wouldn’t work. Some of those people were told “well, Dukes can be on a show, but he can’t be the lead guy on a show,” and so the credit is with the people that understand the broad picture. So, coming to work with Terry and coming to work with Rick is cool. I’ve only ever had the chance to work with Caucasian PDs or Caucasian market managers.
D: It also has to feel good that when you’re trying to fight for what you want the show to be, or explain what the show is, it has to be more comfortable not to be the only Black guy in the room for a change.
D: That’s not to disparage any of your past program directors.
C: Of course not. Not at all, but you’re right. There’s something to be said for that. The other side of that too is, as I’ve said, diversity is good in everything. It’s no different in our business. If you’re sitting in a room and everyone looks like you and they have all had the same experiences as you, you probably are not going to broaden your horizons.
Even with my partner, he’s from New York. I’m from Texas. We talk politics. We talk about all kinds of things. We are so different, but at the core, we are similar and that is why we work so well together.
I say that to say that being around different types of people helped me grow. So the first time I walked into that room and looked around, I did go “Oh, okay!” but that doesn’t make the day-to-day any easier. I think sometimes that is a misnomer.
It’s not any easier. In fact, that puts more pressure to deliver, because what we’ve got here isn’t going on anywhere else around the country.
D: It’s weird to hear you say that people told your PDs that you could be on a show, but you couldn’t lead a show in Houston, of all places.
C: Well, here’s the deal. I started in sports radio in the 90s. I wasn’t even doing sports radio. I was doing news. I was doing music. I didn’t make my transition to sports radio until the late 90s, somewhere around 97 or so.
At that time, all sports radio at that point was on all-news stations. There were very few independent, all-sports stations. So, if you wanted to do sports, you had to do it on an all-news station at night.
When I first got into the business I thought I wanted to be on television. It’s like that for many of us, right? You look at the local sports guy and say “Oh, I want to do what he’s doing.”
But anyway, talk radio was all-news or political talk and all white. So, that was the element. It may sound weird that those things were said, but I’ve been told in my career that I “don’t sound like the station,” if you pick up what I’m getting to. That’s kinda covert racism.
D: (laughing) Well, is it really all that covert?
C: (laughing) Here’s the deal, when you hear “Well, you’re good. You just don’t sound like the station,” and they pat you on the back and don’t give you that opportunity, it tells you that you are less than the other talent that is there.
The reality is what they mean is “you sound black, and we can’t have you sounding black on the air.” Well, what is “sounding black”?
That environment, it was difficult for me, because you’re always trying to do the best you can. But I had people at times telling me they didn’t think that was the right idea.
(At this point a man interrupts our conversation to shake Carl’s hand and tell him how much he loves the show. The man’s name is Duane Johnson. I point out that Dwayne Johnson is the Rock’s name and jokingly ask if the guy was a plant for my benefit. “Hell no,” Carl says. “I’ve never met that brother in my life!”)
D: It had to be frustrating too at that time. You’re striving to get better and there’s always going to be a ceiling when it is a sports show on a news station.
C: Oh sure, and I talk about this all the time when I talk to kids or address folks wherever. They ask me “Hey man, how do I get into the business?” or “How do you get to this point?”. I always point out that there are so many more opportunities than there was.
Now, the biggest difference is you can just put your stuff out there. If you really want to start a show, just start it. There are so many ways to put it out there. If you’re good and you’re interesting, people are going to find you.
My whole thing was, through this process, I have to give credit to my wife. She always reminded me that intellect and dialect are not exclusive. I guess this goes back to sounding a certain way.
I used to meet people all the time that would come up and say “Oh my God, YOU’RE Carl Dukes?”. And you know what they are saying is “Oh my God, you’re black!”. So, our joke always was “Yes, and you’re still going to listen, right?”. So, we had fun with it, but it was part of the process and the growth.
But anyway, what I tell young broadcasters is the key is getting to the point where you can help someone else. This success that I am having, now I am looking and want to know “where’s the next Carl Dukes?”. Where’s that next non-athlete radio guy that can do this job and not be pigeon-held back by the market or whatever the challenges are?
For a lot of folks you’ve gotta see it to believe it. Growing up there were no mes. There were maybe a handful of black guys on sports talk radio. You think about the explosion of sports radio in the 2000s, not just in major markets, but in small markets. When it happened, it allowed the opportunity for people to have a lot more opportunity.
The problem is for a lot of African-Americans that were in music radio that wanted to make the transition, we didn’t know how. I am very fortunate that I had great mentors and great people looking out for me. They saw me and said “not only can he do this, but he can do a lot of stuff”. It is really a testament to those individuals that helped me along the way.
D: Let’s talk about the beer.
C: Hey Man Blonde Ale
D: You know, it really isn’t that long ago that just to have a t-shirt with your name on it in this business you had to be at like Howard Stern-level popularity. Now, correct me if I am wrong. I think Entercom’s rock station in Seattle, their afternoon show has a beer.
C: I know there’s one other. Either Rock or CHR, but no other sports show.
D: I am pretty sure it’s the rock station up there, but either way, it is so perfectly marketed towards who you are talking to everyday. How did it come about?
C: So, our PD came to us and said “I am talking to some people about an opportunity and I need to know if you are interested.” Mike and I were both just like “What is it?” in a very sarcastic way, because you know, so often ideas like this never come to life.
So, he says “I’d like you to meet with these guys from Oconee Brewing Company.” So we come into the conference room, and tell them about the show and how we get to know our audience. They’re like “What do you think about us making a Dukes & Bell beer?” and we’re like “Okay, sure.”
All the right people are in the room at this point. Our marketing director, his name is Dutch, and the sales director, Dave Deemer, are in there. We’re all saying “Okay, now how do we grow this?” So, it went from something I don’t think anyone in the room thought was possible to now we’re going to visit the brewery. It’s in Greensboro, Georgia.
So, Taylor, who is our brewmaster, we see his passion. We see the passion of everyone there. They listen to the show. They love the show and want to be a part of it, and they thought that not only for them, but for us would be an awesome opportunity.
That is when I bought in. We came up with the campaign to say “Hey, we’re gonna do a beer, so what is going to be the name?”
The show begins everyday with us going “Hey Man…” Everything on the show is very…
C: Yes! Very much so. There are some planned things, but a lot of what is happening on the show is just happening. So when we address each other, we don’t say “What’s up?” It’s always “Hey man.”
“Dukes, what’s up?”
It was just one of those in the office things. That’s how it started. So, when Mike and I got together on the show and told the listeners “When you see us on the streets or you see us out it’s ‘hey man!’. That’s how we address each other.”
So that’s where “Hey Man” comes from, but we didn’t know that was going to be the name of the beer. We told the listeners that we have this beer coming, but we need your help. We probably got between 1500 and 2000 names. Many of them were already copywritten, but we got some really creative names.
A lot of it was phrases from the show. It was really cool. You could see the connection between the show and what was going on. “These guys are gonna get a beer and I can name their beer! I want to be a part of this!”
D: Right, so then for the listeners it becomes “we’re getting a beer!”.
C: Exactly! You can see the response starting to ramp up. So, you fast forward from spring to summer. We go out to Oconee and film ourselves tasting seven or eight types of beer. Our goal was to make something that worked for everybody. We wanted the taste for people that really liked beer but nothing so strong that turned away a casual drinker, and of course, you want women to drink it as well.
So, Taylor has us tasing beers. On a blind taste test Mike and I are saying “I like number 3, but can we mix in a little bit of 4 and then add number 9?” and literally, that is what they did.
He tells us he’ll get to work on it right away. “Go home. The process takes a little while.” So I go back out maybe a month later, and he let’s me taste it. It was warm. It wasn’t quite ready but he told me he’d let me taste it warm. I’ll be honest. I was blown away.
Now it’s back to building it up, telling the audience that we have a beer coming. So, we finally tell the listeners that the response to naming the beer has been awesome, but you know “Hey Man” is our slogan, so the name of the beer is going to be Hey Man.
And to be fair, there were a lot of people telling us it should be called “Dukes & Bell Hey Man.” It’s an easy name to remember. People know it, and it made the most sense. So now, the next question is what is the can going to look like.
They came to us and said “we want to put your faces on the can” and we were like “our two fat faces are going to take up the entire can!”. But they were adamant about having our faces on it, so they sent us five different design ideas for the can.
What we ended up with was “Dukes and Bell Hey Man” with our faces on it, opposite the station name, so you know the 92.9 the Game connection. Then there is a backdrop featuring Midtown Atlanta, where the station is located, and it came out great!
We tell listeners the beer is ready and then people are like “when is it coming out?”. I am telling you, they can’t keep it. Stores cannot keep it in stock.
D: Is it on tap anywhere?
C: It is. It’s in about 50 different restaurants in town, but once they canned it and put it in Total Wine and every package store, that was huge. We’re at the resort on St. Simon Island on tap!
I love that they can’t keep it in stores. To me that is the coolest thing. That tells me there is a real connection. It’s people saying “I like these guys. Not only does their show kick ass, but I am going to go drink their beer.”
And now we have another level of connection to our audience. When we’re at tailgates, we’re drinking our own beer. We’re checking on fans. “You got a Hey Man?”
It is a situation that I have never been a part of in my career, and I have done some cool events and trips and things. This for me…again, if you had told me how this would help the show and help the connection to our audience, and help grow the audience, I don’t know that I would have believed it.
D: It’s weird man. I know there is the Marconi for radio stations and broadcasters, but your own beer, that’s your Oscar. That’s your gold medal.
C: It is, man. A few weeks back, I was driving home and that was when the first big order was out and it was selling out everywhere. The beer came out around labor day and not just fans, but stores were asking for the next batch, so Oconee is producing more and more.
So, I said “You know what, I am going into this store by my house to see if they have some Hey Man.” I am in the car and I am filming. I walk into the store. The guy doesn’t know who I am. I walk to the back and there is a huge stack of Hey Man cases!
I grab two six packs and I walk up to the counter filming. I am like “I’m about to go up to the counter and I want to see if I can get a discount for my face being on this beer.” So I get up there, and it’s this young guy working.
I put the beer on the counter and I know this guy is like “why the hell is this guy filming me ring the beer up?”. So I ask how much and he says “twenty bucks.”
So I go “I get a discount right?”. The guy looks at me like I’m nuts and says “For what?”.
So I take the camera, point it at my face. Then I point it at the can, then back on him and I’m like “because my face is on this can! Don’t I get a discount?”.
And the guy freaks out! He says “Oh sir, I’m new here. I’ve only been working here three weeks!”. Everyone behind me is laughing their asses off. Some random lady behind me goes “that must be great beer!”
For me, I don’t care what other sports shows do moving forward, we were the first! And also, is there another black man on a beer can anywhere? I have been asking my friends who drink a lot of brew “have you ever seen another black guy on one of these cans?”.
D: Since the “wasssssup guys“ I don’t know that I can name many others that are even featured in commercials.
C: Yeah, so from a personal stand point it has been beyond cool.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
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.
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.
- 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.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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.
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.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
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.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.