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Soren Petro Tells Us What’s Going On In Kansas City

” The Chiefs are bigger now than they’ve ever been and it’s because of one guy and the expectations surrounding him. We’ve never been like this, but I think you can do a show, even out of season, that’s 90 percent Chiefs.”

Tyler McComas

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Soren Petro has seen just about everything the Kansas City sports scene has to offer. A longtime host, who was even a part of the first sports radio show KC had ever heard in the early 90’s, Petro’s opinions on the teams in town have been heard for the better part of two decades. But as much as he’s seen, it’s an interesting time right now for sports talk in Kansas City.

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Excluding Patrick Mahomes, two of the biggest names in the area have found themselves surrounded in controversy. Bill Self, head basketball coach at the University of Kansas, and his knowledge of the FBI investigation that has rocked college hoops has been a huge local story. The other big one is Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill after he was investigated by police for an alleged battery that he has still not been charged with. 

They may help with content, but both of these stories still have a relative amount of unknown information and anything new can be hard to come by. This can make it tough for a host. So how has Soren approached this unique time for the Kansas City market? The proud Syracuse grad and host of The Program on Sports Radio 810 shared his thoughts. 

                                       Handling Controversy

TM: We haven’t heard any more on Tyreek Hill in like three weeks. How are you talking about this story when there’s been no new information?

SP: The Tyreek Hill story is interesting but there’s really not much to say. It gets brought up as, hey, let’s talk about NFL Draft, wide receiver is something they might need because we’re still unsure about Tyreek Hill.

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From the standpoint of the story being an unknown, it’s a topic because of the Draft and the Chiefs offseason is a very big part of our conversations. But as far as talking about the standpoint of him going to jail, not going to jail, or if he’s going to get released, that’s in a holding pattern right now.

I do think that as every day goes by, it’s more likely he’s going to be a member of the Chiefs. I think if something obvious was there, we’d know and a decision would have been made. In terms of the story, we update it around the Chiefs conversations we have, but for the most part, if you’re one that say you know what’s going on with the story, you better or you’re just lying.

TM: Are the conversations about Tyreek Hill like: Hey, let’s pretend he’s on the team, who are they going to draft? Or, hey he’s not on the team what do you do now?

SP: Yeah, he was just such a lightning rod topic when they took him in the 5th Round three years ago. That dominated the talk about the time and it just re-ignites the conversation.

By all accounts, he was doing everything he was asked to do, in terms of counseling and being the model teammate, so there was a feeling those problems were in the rearview mirror. It’s one of those topics that isn’t just a sports radio topic, its real life. That gives everyone a chance to have an opinion. It’s an all-encompassing topic, but it’s just at a weird time so you’re in a holding pattern, trying to make some context to what hearing nothing exactly means.

TM: The way you’ve approached the Tyreek Hill story, is it similar to the way you’ve approached the Bill Self story? 

SP: Yes and no. In some ways, yes, there’s things we don’t know. The difference is that this story while Bill Self is having to be in front of the media on a regular basis. He had to answer questions after each game, he had to answer questions on the Big 12 conference call and had to his radio show. From that standpoint, you were always able to get comments from the ultimate decision maker.

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First, we hear KU’s name mentioned with the story, then we hear there’s a trial, then we get the trial and everything that was submitted with it, so there was always new info coming out to where you had new questions for Bill Self to answer.

The NFL is about as closed down as you could possibly be in season. Out of season, you wouldn’t even know the organization exists in the town. They just go away, so there’s nobody to speak to and all you get is a statement from the team. Self was actually up there answering questions.

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Chiefs talk is as hot as it’s ever been in Kansas City. With the best young quarterback in the game, leading the most exciting offense in the league, if you’re not dedicating a whole lot of time to the Chiefs, you’re doing your show a massive disservice.

But KC isn’t just an NFL town. It’s been a baseball town with the Royals winning the World Series in 2015. It has a strong college basketball presence with a blue blood program being just 45 minutes down the road in Lawrence. It also has strong college football interests with local teams such as KU, K-State and Mizzou competing in the Big 12 and SEC. Nobody who has any sense about sports radio would argue that the Chiefs aren’t the No. 1 story in town, even in the offseason, but what’s the balance? 

                                   Managing a Balance

TM: It’s the NFL off season right now, but the draft is quickly approaching. What’s the balance between hitting Chiefs talk along with everything else going on?

SP: I would say the Chiefs moved to the No. 1 story in town the night they drafted Patrick Mahomes and it’s been that way ever since. Each step of his career has been a massive story from when he got picked, when he first got to play and then when he eventually became the starter.

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I’ve been doing sports talk long enough to remember when the Chiefs came back to prevalence in the early 90’s. They were the dead franchise and the Royals were all the conversation. The Chiefs are bigger now than they’ve ever been and it’s because of one guy and the expectations surrounding him. We’ve never been like this, but I think you can do a show, even out of season, that’s 90 percent Chiefs.

You’re not going to upset anyone right now by doing it, but you do have to find a balance. If you’re doing two hour show, you’re going to play the hits, so you’re going to hit more Chiefs. If you do four hours, like I do, we’re doing at least one hour of Chiefs every day and some days even more. Recently, the Chiefs have been 50 percent of our conversation and the other teams have filled in the rest.

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I’ve never been a big believer in golf talk on a show. Not only do I think interest for the sport has significantly fallen off, it’s just not as easy subject to make interesting on the radio.

I can understand the importance of The Masters and the storylines that surround it, so I know talking about it this week makes sense. So, with Tiger Woods shooting for his first major since Elin Nordegren chased him out of his house with a golf club in 2009, do you commit a lot of time to the tournament if you have other relevant stories in your market?

Covering the Masters

TM: First, would you say you’re a golf fan?

SP: No, I watch the four majors, but I’m not the one at the station breaking down different swings, identifying the up and comers or anything like that. That’s just not really me.

TM: How much time will you commit to The Masters? 

SP: Our afternoon guy has a cool tradition. He goes to a certain bar and restaurant in town that has three locations in town. They do a remote on Thursday there and at a different one on Friday. They do all these specials and they’ve become the spot to go and watch The Masters. They kind of take over his show with it, so it’s a little bit different in my view.

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One, I’m not the golf expert and I never try to be something I’m not. When I know we’re going to be pumping four hours of golf in the afternoon on Thursday and Friday, I feel like it’s my job to service everything else that’s going on. We have the leaderboard updates with Westwood One, so it’ll get mentions along with if something just really big ends up happening.

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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