Here in America, 2020, a renowned baseball franchise won the World Series after its star third baseman was pulled in the eighth inning because of a positive COVID-19 test. What, we’re just supposed to ignore a heinous breach of medical trust and let everyone party? Yes, this was a triumph of perseverance, not only for the bluebloods who blew decades of chances and billions but for a generational athlete, Clayton Kershaw, who finally buried his postseason bugaboos.
But six days before the most consequential election in this country’s history, the Dodgers are symbolizing more than sports glory. They are the definition of why the coronavirus continue to rage. As they celebrated in an empty ballpark in Texas and fans frolicked in Los Angeles with only a few rubber bullets fired by police, anyone with a functioning brain was mortified by it all.
Already plagued by a long history of scandal, from the Black Sox to the Steroids Era to the trashcan-banging Astros, Major League Baseball might have one-upped itself in shame Tuesday night. Justin Turner, the shaggy-haired slugger and team leader, took his regular coronavirus test Monday. It’s unconscionable that the president of MLB’s Utah-based lab, Dr. Daniel Eichner, needed a day and a half before contacting deputy commissioner Dan Halem with news that Turner’s test was inconclusive. It happened in the second inning of Game 6, if we can believe the details of commissioner Rob Manfred, which should have put the league on immediate high alert. What about Turner’s Dodgers teammates and their family members, all staying in the designated “Bubble” hotel? What about the traveling party of the Tampa Bay Rays, staying inside the same Four Seasons in the Dallas suburb of Irving? What about baseball officials and broadcasters? Were they at risk because Manfred, on the final night of a four-month odyssey, was trying to sneak his way through an infection?
In the height of irresponsibility, MLB stayed mum throughout the game, as if wanting the crisis to go away. The league had a billion reasons to do so — the dollars arriving once the postseason was complete and champions were crowned — and, as has been common procedure in American sports throughout the pandemic, the financial grab took priority over the safety of the workers in uniform. Halem asked the lab chief to inspect Turner’s pre-game Tuesday sample, hoping the previous test was a false positive. In the sixth inning, MLB was informed that Turner indeed was infected. If Manfred truly cared about protocols, Turner would have been placed in quarantine, the game would have been stopped, and every person in the Bubble would have been put on notice. Instead, Turner was allowed to play two more innings while the Dodgers were being informed. The ballgame came first — and was it coincidence that this dangerous dance continued until the Dodgers had taken command, after Rays manager Kevin Cash absurdly had removed the dominant starting pitcher, Blake Snell?
This was administrative malpractice of the most corrupt kind. At first, there was no explanation for Turner’s removal, which smacked of a cover-up attempt. Not until Fox Sports’ Kevin Burkhardt reported the positive test did reality settle in: MLB had waited until it saw daylight at the end of its COVID tunnel — riches and finality — before acknowledging that the virus hadn’t been conquered after all. Manfred has spent October in hearty self-congratulation for overcoming the early outbreaks of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals and “harnessing” the virus. As America and Planet Earth are wickedly aware, COVID is kicking all of our asses and will keep doing so as long as selfish people run institutions as important as sports.
“It’s a bittersweet night for us,” a wobbly Manfred told Fox, adding, “We learned during the game that Justin tested positive and he was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”
I’m not buying any of this. When $1 billion is on the table, after MLB lost $3 billion in cash during its truncated regular season, powerful men tend to wobble. This smells like a scam, negative news delayed intentionally so the World Series wasn’t interrupted. And the scene grew worse not long after the 3-1 clincher, when Turner appeared on the field for the traditional team photo. Flanked by his wife, he hugged Kershaw and posed beside manager Dave Roberts, who wasn’t wearing a mask. His teammates wanted him out there, COVID be damned, before preparing for an emergency round of PCR tests. This is not how championships are supposed to be celebrated.
“Thanks to everyone reaching out!” Turner tweeted after the game. “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA #WorldSeriesChamps.”
Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman, who had endured years of criticism to reach this night, was troubled by the developments. “It was extremely surreal,” he said. “Obviously, it’s incredibly unfortunate, and it speaks to what all of us are dealing with in 2020. Post-game, he wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy. For him, being a free agent and not sure how the future will play out, I don’t think anyone was going to stop him. This is something we’re going to wrap our arms around. It was an unfortunate end point of this incredible series and definitely affected some of the joy of winning becuase of what J.T. has meant to us.”
Asked why he was seen in an animated discussion with Turner and why he allowed Turner to pose for the photo, Friedman suggested the matter was out of his hands. “If there’s people around him without a mask, that’s not good optics at all,” he said of Roberts. “I think the subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important so that any of us who test positive don’t spread it to other people. It wasn’t up to Justin. He wanted to come out and take a picture with the trophy, and he did.”
His teammates had no problem with it. “He’s part of the team,” Game 6 hero Mookie Betts said.
“Forget all that, he’s part of the team. We’re not going to exclude him from anything.”
“It’s gut-wrenching. It hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels,” said Corey Seager, the Series MVP. “If I could switch places with him right now, I would, because that man more than anybody deserves to take a picture with that trophy.”
The takeaway here is bigger than the World Series, bigger than sports. What Turner’s positive test does is remind Trumpers that the coronavirus is not a hoax, that it can overshadow the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years. Just the same, Trumpers can fire back and say, “Turner had no symptoms. He was fine. It was all fake news, a conspiracy,” — on the same day the White House said Trump has “ended the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Only in a pandemic, one might joke, would Kershaw handcuff October, Roberts hush his critics and the Dodgers win the Series. But this is no time for Open Mic Night, not that The Comedy Store, The Improv and other local laugh shops are open anyway. A wonderful story was clouded by COVID, and it’s important we not forget that wonderful story. You don’t have to like the Dodgers to appreciate how they mastered baseball’s most surreal year. Armed with every logistical reason to crash again, they invited loved ones to Texas, bonded like family for an entire month and handled the weirdness better than the rest.
That they did so in a bastardized season didn’t make the agony purge any less rewarding. They would have loved to celebrate at Dodger Stadium, where the home team hasn’t clinched a Series since 1963 and where 1,000 vehicles packed the parking lot each night for viewing parties on 60-foot screens, with honks replacing cheers. But Arlington will do. Like the Lakers and Tampa Bay Lightning, like Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa, like Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka, like the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and soccer’s Portland Timbers and anyone else who won a championship in the evil 2020, the Dodgers like winning this way. The memories of Game 5, the real clincher, told us that much.
There was Kershaw, now the old soul after a near-decade of using “We Are Young” as his warmup music, at peace after handing the ball to Roberts with a lead for a change. In the pivotal moment of this entertaining Series, the Dodgers needed him to be Hall of Fame Clayton or just Decent Clayton one night after the Rays, had reminded the world of their unique tenacity — and audacity — with what is known as The Brett Phillips Experience. Would Kershaw implode again in October? Would he be Hangdog Clayton? No, he would not, for this time, he realized Roberts was making the right call in removing him after 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball. His teammates lobbied furiously for him to stay in the game, including Turner, who mouthed an expletive. But Kershaw, without his best stuff, refused to plead his case as he might normally. And it all worked out, for both embattled men, as the storybook insisted it should. Who will forget the sight of Kershaw, 4-1 this month with a 2.93 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings, sitting with a satisfied smile at a Zoom conference with daughter Cali and son Charley after Game 5?
“Anytime you have success in the postseason, it just means so much. That’s what you work for. That’s what you play for this month,” he said. “I know what the other end of it feels like, too, so I’ll take it.”
He looked at Cali, 5. “Every dad just wants their kids to be proud of them,” Kershaw said. “Cali told me that, so I’ll take that.”
Then there was Roberts. He laughed when reminded that Dodgers fans, who numbered around 8,000 in a socially distanced ballpark, still managed to unload a ferocious assault of boos as he threatened to fail them again in removing Kershaw. “I understand that fans and players can get caught up in emotion, and I’m emotional,” he said. “But I still have to have clarity in making decisions because, ultimately, my job is to help the Dodgers win the World Series. So yeah, I can’t get caught up in fans’ reactions with a decision I make.”
Does he have anything to say to his critics? Too classy for that. “When you take on this job … of a particular organization that hasn’t won a championship for quite some time, that’s part of what you signed up for,” Roberts said. “So, I just take it more as passion and care from the fans.”
They had flipped the script, as they say in Hollywood, at last bringing joy to their legacies and fun to grocery-store visits to Ralph’s. Two nights later, the Dodgers were in heaven. “This is our year!” shouted Roberts, greeted by cheers now. It was a refreshing and necessary scene for the battered American psyche. We still were able to witness a World Series celebration, even if it involved a franchise with endless resources and an ability to trade for Betts, then hand him $365 million for the next dozen years.
I live 17 miles west of Dodger Stadium, so I guess this is my local team, at least according to my MLB app. You should know some things about Los Angeles during a pandemic. These days, there is little to resent about L.A. The coronavirus has dimmed the neon and dulled the thrill of living here, with masks dutifully worn after 300,000 cases and 7,000 deaths in the county. The sun comes out only if the wildfire haze lets it. As I write this, the air quality index is an unhealthy 171. Freeway traffic is light because there’s nowhere to go. “Here come those Santa Ana winds again,” goes the Steely Dan refrain, as dust coats your eyes on the tennis court.
Another political disturbance could bust out at any time, even on Rodeo Drive, which will close on Election Day. In Inglewood, the new $6-billion football stadium sits undisturbed like an alien spaceship, deemed unsafe by Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Guns N’ Roses and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who lets two NFL teams play there on TV in what must be the loneliest experience in sports. Celebrities? I saw Ben Affleck and his girlfriend strolling on a Santa Monica avenue, but most are in seclusion, venturing out only after paparazzi are alerted for relevance preservation purposes. I also spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger on his bike. Wow.
All that said, I’m still hearing anti-L.A. groans nationally after the Game 6 clincher, especially given the Turner episode. Coupled with the NBA title of the Lakers 16 nights earlier, this has become the sports epicenter of the pandemic. The concern is that L.A. has so many built-in advantages — weather to enjoy, movies and docs to produce, mansions to purchase, Kardashians and Jenners to date, new championships to win — that every prominent American athlete will try to funnel his way here and flourish amid the overflowing resources of southern California’s franchises.
LeBron James did, using his influence to lure prized sidekick Anthony Davis. Betts couldn’t wait to sign the extension after his trade to the Dodgers, who added him to an embarrassment of homegrown riches including Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger and Seager. Mike Trout might own Eagles season tickets and love his native Jersey, but he never paused in his Newport Beach digs before re-signing with the Angels for $430 million. And if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George tip-toe around here these days, having failed to take over the town as promised, they’re still with the Clippers and eyeing a title they frittering one away in the NBA Bubble. When a superstar wants a scenery change, SoCal always is on the short list and often is the choice. If Hollywood once was about movie stars, now it’s also about music icons, influencers and athletes.
But here’s something the groaners don’t know about L.A. that might soothe their trophy envy. Unlike the people of New England — a region that won a nauseating six Super Bowls, four World Series, one NBA title and one Stanley Cup between 2002 and 2019 — Angelenos don’t walk around with puffed chests, open alcohol containers and bro-dude bravado, fueled by an obnoxious delusion that sports titles make them superior to the rest of us. Oh, some idiots will riot in the streets, but this is not a place where sports feeds native self-esteem and identity. They do like hanging banners and adoring their icons, favoring those who play entire career spans here, such as Kobe Bryant, over a rented mercenary such as James. Yet if the Lakers had lost to the Heat or the Dodgers had blown another to the Rays, people wouldn’t sulk and mope for the entire winter, as they do in Chicago or Philadelphia.
They’d just head to the beach.
That’s why athletes love L.A. The fan and media pressures, which can be suffocating in psycho cities in the East and Midwest, are downsized. Local sports radio has some of the worst ratings in the industry. There isn’t a ravenous appetite for written sports content as there is in, say, Chicago, where I needed a watchdog friend and a bartender’s security skills just to stop for a post-game beer. (An aside: When a Bears fan said he didn’t like my columns, and I expressed shock that he knew how to read, he tried to slug me … until the bartender leaped over the counter and removed him). The media stars here are either friends of the athlete (Jim Hill), comedians (Fred Roggin and Petros Papadakis) or a columnist such as Bill Plaschke, the closest thing to a hardass after the forced retirement of churlish L.A. Times colleague T.J. Simers. That’s why I was so surprised to see Jerry Hairston Jr., the Spectrum SportsNet LA analyst and indirect Dodgers employee, stand in a somber studio after the Game 4 crusher and knock Roberts for more mismanagement and closer Kenley Jansen for serving a meaty fastball for Phillips to bloop into history. There aren’t many Jim Romes left around here.
It’s as chill as advertised. And those old stories about athletes gathering at the Playboy Mansion or getting down with the ladies at the Forum Club? Well, the party scene obviously is subdued now. You might see (fill in the young NBA star) with Kendall Jenner at Nobu in Malibu, but LeBron is a middle-aged homebody with three houses to choose from, Kershaw is a devout Christian and family man who spends offseasons in Dallas, Trout is a new daddy, Betts is helping the homeless, Bellinger is Instagramming with his model girlfriend, Kawhi’s main crib is in San Diego, and hockey players literally have a commune by the beach. The Rams and Chargers? They still don’t matter much in a region where loads of transplants stay true to hometown NFL teams in replica sports bars, such as New England haunt Sonny McLean’s, which is partially open with outdoor TVs if anyone wants to cry about Tommy and watch friggin’ Cam throw another pick.
The Dodgers and Lakers are what the natives care about. I was outside at a pizza joint when Cash removed Snell after 5 1/3 scoreless innings, an impulse regretted by the manager as Snell seethed. “I am definitely disappointed and upset,” he said. “I just want the ball. I felt good. I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks.”
For the Dodgers, it was a gifted opening. For Major League Baseball, it was an undeserved reprieve. Imagine, as Game 7 awaited, if everyone in the Four Seasons had to be quarantined for days. Imagine if the Series was postponed until November, if played at all. Imagine if Manfred didn’t get his billion dollars.
Usually, the end of a baseball season smells like champagne. This one smells like a skunk.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.