Initially brought in as part of the staff of Grantland, Lowe has been writing for ESPN.com, podcasting, and making appearances across a number of TV shows since the boutique site folded. Lowe, Bill Barnwell, and Jalen & Jacoby are the only Grantland contributors still left on the ESPN roster.
There would be no shortage of suitors for Zach Lowe if he is open to leaving Bristol. Glasspiegal speculates that the current hiring spree at The Athletic and that company’s ongoing effort to expand its podcasting presence could make it a logical landing spot. Bleacher Report could also be a possibility if Warner Media wanted to strengthen its coverage of the company’s marquee sports partnership.
Again, it is important to note that Glasspiegal’s report indicated that ESPN is committed to keeping Zach Lowe, but with so much money already committed to Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst, there may be a limit on what the company is willing to spend.
5 Takeaways From New Big Ten Media Deal
Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come.
It’s been well known for weeks that the Big Ten was about to make television history but the official confirmation came on Thursday morning. FOX, FS1, BTN, CBS, NBC, and Peacock will now be your exclusive homes for everything Big Ten for the foreseeable future. Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come. Here are the five most interesting things I take away from the new agreement.
Amazon gets spurned again – Richard Deitsch of The Athletic reports Amazon was willing to pay more than CBS and NBC for a package of games in the 3:30 p.m. time slot or the primetime slot. As we now know, they were rejected. They didn’t even win the streaming package that was being offered, as I had previously predicted (Being on Peacock guarantees promotion across NBC platforms including “Today” or during NFL games). This shows that leagues, now more than ever, care the most about reach.
Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports says if CBS, NBC, and Fox “promotes their next B1G game twice in their Sunday NFL games, that’s over 150 million promo impressions for the B1G every NFL Sunday.” Amazon has 172 million Prime subscribers in the U.S. according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report from last January. But it is much easier for the average viewer to find CBS, NBC, and Fox than it is to find Prime on their television sets. It’s a plain and simple fact that may not change for a long time.
We might have to wait for the next rights renewal process for Amazon’s reach, accessibility, and recognition to be anywhere near the same as the broadcast networks. Ad Age reports the internet behemoth is already lowering ratings expectations for the upcoming season of Thursday Night Football because of those same concerns.
Seven years from now, things might be different, and having essential NFL games on Thursday nights may help viewer habits adjust no matter what age group they’re in. But for now, broadcast is still king. Local stations and broadcast networks have a decades-long affiliation with Americans that might be impossible to ever overcome and are the easiest channels in this country to access.
Peacock becomes even more of a must-have app for sports fans – As part of this comprehensive deal, Peacock will have the rights to eight exclusive Big Ten football games and as many as 47 exclusive men’s basketball games, and 30 women’s basketball games. As much as broadcast may be king, streaming is here to stay. Big Ten fans will now join hockey and soccer fans in having to watch a huge chunk of their school’s season on a streaming service. For fans, it will be an adjustment.
Depending on your internet signal, it might be difficult to screencast or connect an HDMI cable or access a smart TV app to watch your school’s games but eventually, it is a behavior we will all need to adjust to if we haven’t already. For NBC, it gives their app even more leverage to distinguish itself and prevent churn as much as possible. Hoops season will probably be the moment fans truly notice the change.
My viewing habit in the past to watch Big Ten basketball games was flipping the channel to ESPN or ESPN2 by happenstance. Unless my Terps are playing or there’s a game that’s being discussed heavily throughout the day on Twitter that’s a must-watch, the chances of me figuring out how to access it on Peacock are slim to none.
The Big Ten and Peacock’s hope is that during the duration of this deal, my habit changes to not only flip channels on my basic cable package but also flip through my streaming services and see there’s a Big Ten matchup happening and that I need to tune in. I wonder if Xfinity and other cable providers will consider a virtual channel placeholder that makes it easier to connect to a streaming service’s sports events in the future.
For example, if ESPN is channel 6 on my cable listings, ESPN2 is channel 7, my local RSN is channel 8, FS1 is channel 9, could a cable provider make channel 10 something like “Peacock Sports” with a listing of a Big Ten game that’s on that connects me right into the app and right into the stream without me having to search for the app, then look for the sports section, then scroll to see what’s live. Accessibility will make streaming sports so much easier. Watching television is a lazy man’s sport. The harder a viewer has to work, the less likely they’ll watch or discover your content. Peacock will also serve as a major home for Olympic sports.
It will be interesting to see if being on the same app as hit shows like Belair and Love Island helps with increasing the visibility of these sports. The Athletic also reports that there will be times Peacock will be airing a primetime Big Ten game while NBC airing a primetime Notre Dame game. Will they complement each other or take away viewers from each other? These are questions we will know the answer to soon enough but I salute the Big Ten and NBC for taking a measured but aggressive leap into the streaming world.
CBS bolsters television offerings despite streaming and SEC losses – When it was first revealed that CBS was signing with the Big Ten for more money than they would’ve used to keep the SEC’s top football game of the week, everyone cried wolf about how CBS took a major L. But when you look at this deal, it seems like more of a win for CBS’ overall sports portfolio.
The Tiffany Network will have access to two Big Ten Championship games in 2024 and 2028. NBC may have more streaming exclusives for their app but CBS will have an extra college football postseason game that NBC doesn’t have (NBC has one Big Ten Champ Game in 2026). They’ll carry 15 MBB games along with the Big Ten Tournament semis and final. They’ve also just added the Big Ten WBB Tournament Final. Women’s basketball ratings are continuing to soar whether it is the college game or the professional game.
A new set of advertisers are seeking to showcase their products during women’s sporting events as awareness and conversation have shifted to giving the women’s game just as much attention as the men. CBS has been a witness to the growth through its NWSL and WNBA broadcasts. CBS also gains a lucrative Black Friday afternoon football game that they’ll be able to sell for even more lucrative prices due to the time of year when millions more people than usual are glued to their television sets.
With their deal with the SEC, they only got SEC football. This is much more expansive for them. It also helps that the markets where Big Ten teams are located are much more aligned with their owned and operated stations than the SEC was which will help with local ad sales in those markets. In my hometown of Baltimore, CBS owns WJZ-TV. The University of Maryland’s biggest market with the most fans besides Washington, D.C. is Baltimore.
Is there still a chance for ESPN and the Big Ten to be business partners again? – As crazy as it sounds, there is a possibility that the Big Ten will expand AGAIN to include Pac-12 schools like California, Stanford, Oregon, and Washington, CBS Sports reports. With Fox, CBS and NBC already having their schedules set, ESPN could be the perfect rights holder to step in and pick up games.
As I noted last week, I don’t think the Big Ten will lose any relevance from a college football perspective by no longer airing on ESPN. Big Ten schools will still be eligible candidates for ESPN’s CFP property and the Big Ten’s football fanbase is too large to neglect on ESPN’s talk show circuit without monetary consequences on ESPN’s end. The basketball season might prove to have much different circumstances. Major basketball games will still air on fully distributed networks like FS1 and BTN.
But does the human psyche of not being on ESPN affect the way a basketball team is perceived during the selection process of the NCAA Tournament? If there is an actual connection, could we see the Big Ten sublicense some of BTN’s inventory to ESPN? Events like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge also hang in the balance. Could we see those types of tournaments sold separately to ESPN or another media outlet like Turner, Amazon, or Apple?
The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reports the Big Ten could explore selling the rights to “specific one-off events.” Darren Rovell of The Action Network points out that live micropayment moments could be the future of watching live sports. “You’re going to be able to buy the last quarter for $2 or the last two minutes for 99 cents,” Rovell wrote. This type of technology already exists via the Buzzer app which has signed deals with the NBA and WNBA to send push notifications during key moments of games and encourage viewers to watch what happens next for 99 cents or $2.
ESPN has one of the most used sports apps in America. Could a deal ever come into place that gives ESPN the ability to sell these live micropayment moments of Big Ten games for similar prices, connect their user to the Fox Sports app or Paramount+ or Peacock depending on where the game is taking place, and split the profit between the rights holders, the conference and themselves? It’s a crazy concept of cooperation that may not be possible but we’ve seen crazier concepts happen in sports media before.
Commitment to academics – One of the coolest parts of this deal is NBC’s commitment to promoting the academic missions of Big Ten schools. Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal reports NBC will dedicate $100,000 of its advertising budget to this initiative.
NBC has tried its best to be mission-driven lately even with their HBCU football slate which will grant select students from HBCUs an opportunity to cover a game for NBC’s digital platforms and give other students the ability to network and improve their career prospects with other divisions of NBCUniversal.
College sports broadcasts are not only good recruiting tools for athletes. High school students deciding on where to go to school post-HS that will never play a sport are also watching these games. They can be influenced to attend these institutions which NBC has rights to because of the experiences NBC is providing at these universities or because of the awareness NBC is giving to what the university stands for. It helps drive a mission of purpose and business-wise, NBC is potentially building a young, new fanbase for the future.
A student who eventually builds allegiance to a certain university through NBC’s initiatives might be more inclined to consume content regarding that institution on NBC platforms in the future. It’s probably far-fetched, wishful thinking, and a bold hypothesis with no analysis but who knows? Haha.
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.
How to Sell Sports Radio During Layoffs
The employees laid off pay the ultimate price, but the salespeople who are charged with representing these companies have a tough job.
How do you handle layoffs at your station with your clients, or worse, the rumor of layoffs? If you were the sales staff at 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee, I doubt you had much of a heads up before the cuts were made. I have worked through local programming cuts and two bankruptcies with a station group. Looking back on it, I should have been more plugged into the bigger picture of my company.
I could have considered moving to a company that was adding resources for local sales, not eliminating them. We all have the option, and I am sure there are salespeople now considering their futures. And that is a good thing.
Local layoffs, though, are not a good thing. I have handled them myself. Usually poorly. The employees laid off pay the ultimate price, but the salespeople who are charged with representing these companies and their moves have a tough job. So, how do you push your station forward with clients when the company cuts it back? I bet the sales people at Audacy could tell us, having faced this situation two times in the last 28 months.
Former Audacy sales manager Dave Greene gave some advice to salespeople when he departed about a year ago about working in big corporate radio. When dealing with layoffs, here is my advice. And, it has been my experience that my best clients were more interested in if I was staying, not in whoever was being let go on air. Keep that in mind. A proactive approach with clients who want to be in the know, agencies who hear all the gossip, or specific clients who like the laid off on air person should be taken.
#1 Don’t tell who doesn’t care. Why be the bearer of bad news to clients who don’t listen or care? You know who they are. Be prepared for a response if they ask, but I don’t think running around to every client with a story will produce much more than a bunch of other rumors about you, your station, and your company.
#2 Bring out the Big Gun. Ask your GM or Regional manager to make calls with you with any high-maintenance client regarding a touchy layoff. Let them face the music and take full responsibility for their actions. The client will feel valued and impressed they had direct access to the decision maker for the explanation.
#3 Use soft hands. If you have a client who is very sympathetic to the laid-off employees, tell them how the person was treated. Some clients care about how others are treated if they have listened to them on the air and feel like they know them well. Severance deals, other company employment offers, or maybe even re-employment at the same station could all be communicated.
#4 Give them the corporate scoop. Tell them why the layoffs happened. Was it to expand into podcasting more aggressively? Were they trying to manage costs JUST LIKE YOUR CLIENT? If we blame it on the economy, we miss a chance to relate to our clients differently. This approach works well with small business owners specifically. We want them to tell what just happened on a personal level. Ask them if they have had to do that in their career. The idea is to make them care MORE, not less.
#5 Don’t be slow and generic. You owe yourself and your family to be intelligent, strategic, and swift. You owe it to the people who were cut to be specific, open, and sympathetic.
If you find yourself in this situation, please be proactive and take control of the narrative with your clients. If you don’t, your competitors will.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes
Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.
Stephen Strom can be heard hosting ‘The Sports Talkers Podcast’ for Barrett Sports Media. In addition to hosting here, Stephen works as a broadcasting assistant for the Miami Heat and color analyst for Nova Southeastern. Additional career experiences include working for SiriusXM, performing analyst duties for Princeton basketball, and hosting shows for TalkNorth.com. You can find him on Twitter @SStrom_.