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Jason Romano Is Spreading His Faith Through Podcasting

“Look, nobody in the media business, even people in the ministry business like we are, doesn’t appreciate having more people visit their website. That’s always a good thing. But that’s not all we’re about.”

Tyler McComas

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If you were called to leave your dream job today, could you do it? Could you take less money, give up great benefits with a successful company and head into a position with more uncertainty because you felt the need to do more for what you spiritually believe in? 

Not only does that not sound easy, it would be downright terrifying. 

Three years ago, Jason Romano was faced with this exact decision. For 17 years, he had his dream job at ESPN. The experience was beyond his wildest dreams. Plus, it didn’t hurt to have all the benefits and perks that come with working at Disney.  But even though he was having the time of his life, Romano felt his career life and his love of God weren’t intertwining like they should be. He was a Christian, but it felt like a separate part of his life from ESPN. He wanted to do more for God. So he prayed. 

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2016 was Romano’s favorite year at the Worlwide Leader. Working on The Mike and Mike Show was easily one of the highlights of his career, as he enjoyed all the co-workers he was surrounded with while being an integral part of a successful show. But as great of a year as it was, it didn’t stop him from continually praying about doing enough for God. During the fall of that year, he received a call from a connection he had already made. On the other line was Steve Stenstrom, the president of Sports Spectrum to ask Romano if ministry was on his mind. After purchasing Sports Spectrum in the prior summer, the goal was to revamp the digital side of the website and start a podcast. Romano was just the guy Stenstrom was looking for to help give Sports Spectrum a new look. This was the sign Romano was looking for. He knew it was where he was meant to be. 

So, Jason left it all behind. The dream job, the benefits, the perks, ESPN, all of it for an offer where nothing was guaranteed other than working for God. On February 10th, 2017 Romano left ESPN. 

The Sports Spectrum podcast was one of the first things Romano started when he arrived with his new employer. The idea behind it, was to mix sports and faith into a podcast. Which, with his background for so many years at ESPN, made Romano the perfect host. The podcast quickly took off. With his connections during his days at Bristol and the comfortable feel the platform gave to athletes, coaches and media members, big-name guests started to fill each episode and reveal a side of themselves most fans didn’t know about. 

Fast forward to today and Sports Spectrum has now hit 1 million downloads. For any podcast, that’s an amazing achievement, especially in the relatively short amount of time since its debut episode. Romano wants a large number of downloads like anyone else behind a mic, but it’s not the overall goal. He’s aiming for something way more impactful, which makes quantifying success a tricky issue.  

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“That’s something I wrestle with all the time,” said Romano. “I came from a place that success is quantified by the amount of people that watch, read and listen at ESPN. How many downloads did we get? How many likes did we get? How many followers did we grow with our social media platforms? It’s quantifiable numbers that equate to success in a lot of ways. 

“I think success for me is the same as when I released my book. I said if one person reads it and they’re impacted by my story then it’s a success. If it’s just one person it’s a success. That’s kind of how I look at it with the podcast. 1 million is a large number and one so far beyond anything I ever thought about when we started this. But when you hear it, you can compare to other large networks, where people are getting that in a week. 1 million downloads, to me, is more about the impact they can have on that one person.”

Having high-profile guests on your podcast, especially in the beginning, can be so critical to the eventual success it has. For one, it creates more intrigue to the episode, which will likely lead to more downloads. Two, the opportunity presents itself where a simple retweet of the posted episode by the guest could draw in thousands of new listeners that didn’t know the podcast previously existed. Romano has had over 400 guests on the Sports Spectrum podcasts. Names such as Maria Taylor, Andrew McCutchen, and Mark Richt, to just name a few, are just some of the guests the podcast has had to offer, with each telling their own unique story about their faith. 

Although guests are primarily there to share stories about their faith, that doesn’t mean breaking news hasn’t happened before on an episode. Though Adam Schefter is normally the one to break NFL news, it was Sports Spectrum’s great fortune when Matt Forte announced his retirement on the podcast with Romano.   

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“We’re not in the business of breaking stories,” said Romano. “But people feel comfortable with us because they know we’re not out trying to get a story for clicks. Look, nobody in the media business, even people in the ministry business like we are, doesn’t appreciate having more people visit their website. That’s always a good thing. But that’s not all we’re about. We’re out to share encouraging stories and bring Jesus back in the conversation.”

In terms of getting big guests, the reasoning behind the podcasts has made it, in most cases, a lot easier to get attractable names.  

“Recently we had Matt Hasslebeck interview Mike Fisher, the hockey player who’s married to Carrie Underwood,” Romano said. “Mike doesn’t do a whole lot of interviews, he’s actually a really shy guy. But I knew that if we were to talk about Jesus he was going to say yes. I just knew it because that’s the most important thing in his life. A lot of people have said yes, because of that factor.”

Whether its radio, television or podcasting, the best interviews are usually done when both parties are seated at the same table. Romano agrees with this and tries his absolute best to make sure he’s in the same room as the guest. Unfortunately, logistics don’t always work out. That’s life in the audio space.

Twenty percent of the interviews on the Sports Spectrum podcast are done in person. The next preferred method is through Skype, because he’s still able to see the guest through a webcam, which makes for a more personal feel during the interview. Romano will even use FaceTime for interviews if it ensures he can see the guest. Anything to make things sound more intimate for the listener. 

Though Romano has gotten about 60 percent of the interviews he wanted to get when he started Sports Spectrum over two years ago, there’s still a couple of big names he really hopes to have in the coming year. 

“Stephen Curry and Tim Tebow,” said Romano. “Any faith based media company would love to talk to those two. When you intersect sports and what we’re all about I think both of those guys exemplify that. I don’t have a connection with either of them, other than people that I know who know them. But I feel like I’m just using relationships if I say, hey, will you call Tim and see if he’ll come on the podcast? I’d rather get those organically. I’ve done that in the past but I try not to do it too often because I feel like that’s cheating in a lot of ways. I want to try and do it the way that I learned for so many years at ESPN, which is build relationships and try to get to the person directly.”

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There’s no podcast out there that offers the type of content Sports Spectrum has to offer. There’s a lot of sports podcasts, even faith-based podcasts, but none has intertwined the two quite like Romano has. The uniqueness of it is exactly what he’s most proud of. Romano loves the fact Sports Spectrum could potentially be a pioneer for this style of podcast. While some in the audio space fear competition, Romano wants there to be as much as possible.  

“I hope in five years, there’s 20 of these or even 100’s,” Romano said. “Even though the Sport Spectrum brand has been around for 30 years, for the past couple years while we’ve been doing this, we found there’s just not any other podcast like it. I’m proud of that. We always thought that there was an appetite for a podcast like this and I’m proud that’s proven to be true.”

The high number of downloads for Sports Spectrum isn’t going to stop. Neither will the big-name guest list. But Romano sees a much higher ceiling than one million more downloads in the next year. Of course, he admits it’s about God’s overall plan for the podcast and not his own, but there are visions as to how operations can be expanded. 

“I envision a Sports Spectrum network someday,” said Romano. “A place where there’s several organized podcasts that all have something to do with sports and faith. I love what Bill Simmons has done with The Ringer. That’s a model that I look at and envision us doing on a much smaller scale.”

The vision doesn’t stop with just adding more microphones. It’s also about getting out from behind one and brining the product to a live audience. 

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“I also envision a Sports Spectrum live event scenario in a couple of years,” Romano said. I’d love to go out and interview an athlete in front of an audience. We would tape those and then they’re obviously podcasts, but they’re bigger events with people listening in an audience. The athlete we interview can sign autographs after and share their testimony. It’s almost like a church centered night where there’s a pastor giving a sermon and the worship band is playing music. It would be an event where people can come and be there in person.”

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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