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Lean Into The College Football Playoff Rankings

“Hosts in college football markets are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t acknowledge how listeners gravitate towards content centered on the rankings.”

Tyler McComas

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College football has stumbled upon something brilliant. Whether it was a conscious effort or not, the sport has found itself being talked about off the field as much as it does on the field. That’s a win. 

Credit that to the idea of the College Football Playoff Rankings Show that airs every Tuesday night from now until the end of the conference championship weekend. In college markets all across the country the conversation on sports radio stations is how the committee will react to the local team just as much as it is what they did Saturday on the field. 

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In Birmingham this week, the LSU-Alabama game has certainly gotten its fair share of run. But the fallout of the game and how it impacts the rankings is equally as compelling. 

Cole Cubelic, host of 3 Man Front on WJOX 94.5 FM talked mostly on Monday about what happened during the game, but says the conversation shifts more to the rankings as the week goes on.  

“I think Monday was probably 60 or 70 percent what happened in the game,” said Cubelic. “Obviously a lot of that shifted into playoff discussion and what might happen. Tuesday, it was much more playoff talk and probably 15-20 percent of what happened in the game. ”

James Crepea of Fox Sports Eugene has taken a similar strategy. 

“On the air on a Monday after a game I really look at the game first,” Crepea said. “Then, in a subsequent break, get into, alright, that happened with Oregon, here’s some things that happened nationally and what that might mean come Tuesday when the new rankings come out.”

Beau Bishop of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus has been covering the rankings since they debuted in 2014. He’s seen Ohio State both get and not get the benefit of the doubt. But it was his first year covering the rankings that has shaped his opinion on the show. 

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“In the first year of the College Football Playoff in 2014, we would go over it on Monday and Tuesday with a fine tooth comb,” said Bishop. “The way we approached it was with a poll mentality, which means, if you won, you either stay or you move up. If you lose, you drop, simple as that.

“Typically, in the history of polls, both the AP and Coaches, if you don’t lose it’s really hard for teams to jump you. They’re pretty static. Our attitude was always a poll mentality, thinking you’re not going to jump teams that are ahead of you. Then in the final poll of 2014, Ohio State jumped Baylor and TCU and got to No. 4. At that point, I said ‘the rules don’t apply to the College Football Playoff Committee. They can do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want to do it.’

“This is a fun thing, week-to-week, it’s a television show they’re making. They will decide in the final poll who the four teams are and the rest of it is just fun. It’s like cake. It tastes good but there’s no substance to it week-to-week, because it’s a television show. But that hasn’t stopped me from having fun with it, I put that out there to our listeners and say, look, this doesn’t mean anything, let’s have fun for 15 minutes.”

Doing my own show in Norman, OK, another college football market, I agree with Cubelic and Crepea that Mondays should still be about what happened in the game, but as Tuesday arrives, the conversation needs to heavily sway into what the upcoming rankings will look like. Then, as Wednesday comes, reactions to what the rankings mean or what the committee is telling us, should be what you focus the most on. 

But what’s the biggest day for rankings talk: the Tuesday before the release or the Wednesday after? 

“After, for sure,” said Bishop. “The fans love it. They absolutely love it. There’s also the SEC/Big 10 thing that’s there. The other thing we have fun with, and we talk about it quite a bit, is the fact this is a television show. Not just the poll, but the actual College Football Playoff is a television show.”

Crepea is dealing with establishing a new show on a new station, but can already see the traction that relevant discussions around the College Football Playoff has created. 

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“Because of the relative newness of not only my show, but the station as a whole, but especially my show, getting more by way of callers and that in-show feedback is a bit harder because of how new we are,” Crepea said. “At the moment, I’m looking more for analytics from podcasts of the show. I know last week, for the most part, we did pretty well. Both Tuesday leading into the rankings and the day after was pretty similar, from that type of metric and measure. I think as the weeks go on, and I’m on the air as the rankings come out, I would think those days will garner most of that.”

Hosts in college football markets are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t acknowledge how listeners gravitate towards content centered on the rankings. Essentially, its bonus content for hosts that is almost guaranteed to rile up a fan base, or even in some cases, multiple fan bases in a market. One thing is for sure: Fans crave it and it plays extremely well over the radio. 

“Absolutely it is,” said Cubelic. “Especially in my market, because all we say is, should Alabama be in? Or, is Alabama one of the best four teams? It’s an immediate Twitter and phone feedback. Then, you’re going to get one person call in and say why they should be in and three more are going to disagree. This College Football rankings show every Tuesday, I’ve seen people make light of it or make fun of it, saying it doesn’t matter and nobody pays attention to it. What blows my mind is that people who are actually in the sports talk radio business are dumb enough to think that these ratings don’t matter, when it’s there for us. It’s instant material for us that can really last the rest of the week, if you want it to.”

What about guests to talk about rankings? It’s common to bring on someone to talk or break down an upcoming game, so wouldn’t having a guest to talk about the rankings essentially be the same thing? 

Image result for cole cubelic

“We don’t have anybody on specifically for that,” said Cubelic. “But in the past, we’ve had Heather Dinich and Brad Edwards. Peter Burns and Tom Hart were on today (Tuesday) to talk about it. Yesterday, we had Jordan Rodgers on, we asked him about it. If you get a college football analyst on the show, you’re going to ask them their Top 4, as well as if Alabama is in or out right now. It’s a direction we go, but I think if you bring somebody on just to talk about that right now, this close to Bama-LSU being over and what that game meant, you’re limiting yourself just a little bit. But that’s not to say we won’t do it down the road.”

So yes, talk about the rankings. Especially if the team you cover is in the hunt. But even if you cover a team that’s outside the Top 25 or out of the College Football Playoff race, the rankings are still compelling enough to create interesting content. 

The most interesting conversations on college football this week aren’t any of the upcoming games on Saturday or even the weekends to come. The most interesting conversations sound like this: “Why did Alabama only drop to No.5? When will undefeated Minnesota get the credit it deserves? Does the committee hate the Big 12?”

Image result for college football playoff rankings

That’s what the conversations around college football are right now. And it’s because of the College Football Playoff Rankings. 

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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