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The ‘Get Me Out Of Here’ Craze Is Unhealthy For Sports

When fans are obsessed about the trade demands of elite QBs and which stars will form the next NBA superteam, it’s time to ask: Has sports been swallowed by 21st-century anarchy?

Jay Mariotti

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Way, way, way back in the spring of 2016, which qualifies as ancient history in American sports, Kobe Bryant retired after his 20th NBA season. All were played with the Lakers, shockingly enough. Who knew it would be an anomaly for the years ahead, a last vestige of allegiance soon to vanish in a bubbling vat of athlete empowerment amid a raging storm of get-me-out-of-here-ism?

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The signature on a contract is scribbled in invisible ink now. Free agency is perpetual, as sure as the gold wheels on a Gucci luggage set. Buy a jersey to pay homage to your favorite athlete and, chances are, the purchase is obsolete before the first washing. Should Fanatics consider rentals? Is it possible no icon ever again begins and ends a career with the same franchise?

I hope and pray that man is the dazzling Fernando Tatis Jr., recipient of the third-largest deal in baseball history — $340 million over 14 years. But, really now, what are the chances he’ll finish his playing days in San Diego in the late 2030s? Let’s predict 2026 as the Vegas over-under for his first trade demand, regardless of his no-trade clause.

It can’t be healthy for the leagues when fans are more immersed in where players are headed next than the actual games. A monster that was created in the NBA, with a superteam craze forged by itchy stars, has spread like a virus variant to the NFL, where wandering-eyed quarterbacks who recognize their power already have swallowed an offseason awaiting furious activity. LeBron James started this madness by shuttling from city to city, like a mercenary, and winning four championships. Tom Brady continued it by bolting New England after 20 seasons and winning another Super Bowl in Tampa.

Now, whither Russell Wilson? Deshaun Watson? Aaron Rodgers? For that matter, J.J. Watt? This after James Harden forced his way to Brooklyn, joining two others who did the same, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. And as athletes insist on playing this mobility game, owners are only too willing to flip their own middle fingers — which explains, in labor-troubled Major League Baseball, why the Indians preferred to deal Francisco Lindor than give him a fortune and why Colorado dumped Nolan Arenado two years after vowing he’d be a Rockie for a life. And why, in the NBA, Andre Drummond is sitting on the bench in his civvies while Cleveland collects trade offers … and Draymond Green loses his mind in a rant for the times.

“I would like to talk about something that’s really bothering me. And it’s the treatment of players in this league,” Green said after the Warriors drilled the barely trying Cavaliers. “To watch Andre Drummond, before the game, sit on the sidelines, then go to the back, and to come out in street clothes because a team is going to trade him, it’s bulls—. Because when James Harden asked for a trade, and essentially dogged it — no one’s going to fight back that James was dogging it his last days in Houston — but he was castrated for wanting to go to a different team. Everybody destroyed that man. And yet a team can come out and say, `Oh, we want to trade a guy,’ and then that guy has to go sit, and if he doesn’t stay professional, then he’s a cancer. And he’s not good in someone’s locker room, and he’s the issue.

“At some point, as players, we need to be treated with the same respect and have the same rights that the team can have. Because as a player, you’re the worst person in the world when you want a different situation. But a team can say they’re trading you. And that man is to stay in shape, he is to stay professional. And if not, his career is on the line. At some point, this league has to protect the players from embarrassment like that.”

He makes a timely and powerful point — but not for the reason he thinks. In the dizzying movement of players from team to team in all leagues, as even those who cover sports struggle to keep up, it’s not a question of whether the players or owners are right. In truth, they’re ALL wrong, because no one is concerned about the competitive integrity upon which sports are built. Does anyone care that a superstar in flight, while bringing joy to a market already established as a glittering destination, also might bury his former franchise for years to come? Is anyone thinking about a lopsided paradigm in which only a few teams can win titles? And how this constant motion — and struggle for entitlement — leads to frustration from the provocative likes of Green?

Happy feet are nothing new in sports offseasons but not to the degree of 2021, when Wilson or Rodgers can make one cryptic statement and possibly shift the NFL’s balance of power for years. “I’m not sure if I’m available or not. That’s a Seahawks question,” Wilson told talk host Dan Patrick. “I definitely believe they’ve gotten calls. Any time you’re a player that tries to produce every week and has done it consistently, I think people are going to call for sure. … I’m not sure how long I’ll play in Seattle. I think, hopefully, it can be forever. But things change, obviously, along the way.”

What changed? Answer: Watching Brady, more than 11 years his elder, barely get touched in Super Bowl LV while using his potent, hand-selected weapons. Wilson is tired of physical beatings (394 sacks and counting) and weary of having little say in personnel decisions within a Pete Carroll/John Schneider production. “Tom was taking shots down the field and getting the ball to his guys and stuff like that — and he wasn’t touched, really,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, you want to win. You play this game every day to wake up to win. You play this game to be the best in the world. You know what I hate? I hate watching other guys play the game.”

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As in The Big Game, which has eluded Wilson since a repeat Seattle title, easily attainable with a Beast Mode handoff to Marshawn Lynch, became an all-time heinous interception six years ago. “I want to be able to be involved because, at the end of the day, it’s your legacy, it’s your team’s legacy, it’s the guys you get to go into the huddle with — those guys you’ve got to trust,” he said. “If you ask guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and, you know, Tom, I think you saw this year how much he was involved in the process — and that’s important to me.”

So, say Seattle trades Wilson. The team that acquires him becomes an instant contender. The Seahawks, meanwhile, regress for a while.

This is good for sports, caving to one man’s self-centered whims?

Every day, it seems, another big name is restless. “Free agency is wild,” tweeted Watt, who talked his way out of the Houston debacle and could go home to Green Bay, join his two brothers in Pittsburgh, defend a title with Tampa Bay or choose Buffalo, Arizona or Cleveland. Before Brady was even tossing the Lombardi Trophy from his parade boat to another, his QB brethren were plotting moves similar to his escape from Foxboro. Matthew Stafford, his postseason dreams dying in Detroit, respectfully divorced himself from the Lions so he could be saved by the Rams. This only intensified Watson’s wishes to extricate himself from Houston. And who knows what’s inside Rodgers’ head after he suggested a move out of Green Bay, where the Packers might not be receptive to a record-breaking extension even after his latest MVP season?

Suddenly, every team with uncertainty at the most important position in team sports — a description fitting at least half the league — is involved in the domino circus. Is Watson headed to the Jets, Panthers or Dolphins? Would Urban Meyer, soiled by his latest tone-deaf controversy, trade the Trevor Lawrence pick for Watson and the chance to win now in Jacksonville? Or will the Texans rebuff the trade demand, forcing him to return or perhaps sit out the season? Isn’t Wilson a natural in Las Vegas, where the pressure is on Jon Gruden to start earning his $100 million? Or the Cowboys, if Jerry Jones tires of the Dak Prescott drama? The Bears can’t go another generation without a franchise QB, can they? Don’t the Eagles realize Carson Wentz isn’t worth a No. 1 pick, which is why the Bears and Colts haven’t budged in trade talks? The 49ers lurk, not happy with the status quo.

The Saints need a successor to Brees. Bill Belichick will be apoplectic if he can’t find a QB — a Jimmy Garoppolo reprise makes sense — as Brady seeks an eighth title at age 44. The Steelers aren’t committed to broken-down Ben Roethlisberger at a $41 million cap hit. Matt Ryan is nearing the end in Atlanta. And when moves start to happen, whither Sam Darnold? Derek Carr? Tua Tagovailoa? Teddy Bridgewater? In the draft, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields join Lawrence as high picks.

For diehard fans and fantasy players, it’s delirium. But when the drumbeat of the musical chairs game drowns out zeal for the season itself, something is wrong. It means the blurry business of sports is overwhelming the joy of real competition. And yet, do we see anyone stepping in to stop the swirl? The players, the owners, the networks — everyone is too busy getting theirs to notice the chaos. It’s a good thing the customers aren’t spending much money in stadiums and arenas these days, or they’d be contacting the Better Business Bureau. You don’t invest money in a future Broadway show, only to watch the star bolt for a production where he has a better chance of winning a Tony.

As a labor impasse looms at season’s end, MLB begins its death-march season with a trickle of legitimate contenders and too many premeditated stragglers. Clayton Kershaw drilled the industry with a fastball when he told the Los Angeles Times why playing for the Dodgers is special: “The motivation is the fact the Dodgers are one of the few teams that are actually trying, you know? Like when you look around the league, we have a great opportunity to win another one. So there’s motivation in that, knowing that I’m very fortunate to be on a team that actually tries to win every single year is pretty cool. You see around the league, a lot of these … big-market teams are not trying to win and trading guys and doing different things and not spending money.”

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Down the freeway, the Padres are defying their small-market status with gargantuan statements, rewarding Tatis with the richest contract ever given a 22-year-old U.S. athlete. In a stunning but laudable sequence, they’re trying to keep up with the filthy rich Guggenheims at Dodger Stadium. But the Padres also are angering owners who wonder why San Diego didn’t manipulate the system and wait a few seasons before making the jackpot offer, creating more labor tension and division in a sport that can’t afford a work stoppage. Ever think you’d see a $630-million left side of the infield anywhere in baseball, much less at Petco Park, where Tatis and Manny Machado do their work?

The NBA, in desperation mode amid ratings declines and an All-Star Game that Atlanta doesn’t want, smothers America with Brooklyn Nets appearances while praying another formed superteam, the Lakers, isn’t doomed by Anthony Davis’ Achilles issues. Never mind that the Utah Jazz might win a title without the help of mobile superstars; let’s just put the Nets on TV three times a week, including Thursday’s night game against the reigning champion Lakers in Los Angeles. In the height of irony, James rejected hype that Durant, Harden and Irving are the most potent threesome ever.

“Um, have we forgot about KD, Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) already? I mean, there you go. There you go right there,” said James, 11 seasons after taking his talents to South Beach and joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Amnesia about the Warriors, just two years removed from the Finals, might explain why Green’s moods are on red alert. As a lightning rod who once said people who buy sports franchises shouldn’t be called “owners” — he compared it to a slave plantation mentality — Draymond is a little loopy if he thinks those who’ve accumulated massive wealth will bow to athletes who ultimately come and go. If Green wants to invest his earnings wisely and try to buy a franchise someday, he can make delusional remarks such as: “You shouldn’t say owner. When you think of a basketball team, nobody thinks of the f—in’ Golden State Warriors and think of that damn bridge (on the jersey). They think of the players that make that team … you don’t even know what the f—ing (bridge) is called.” But as James reminded Green, owners always will be called owners.

“It’s the narrative of what the league has always been,” he said. “They’ve controlled the narrative of how players should be, how they should act, how they should treat their organization and if things don’t go their way they have a way of getting out the narrative that this person or that person is a bad fit or a cancer to the team or whatever the case may be. We want to be able to have an opportunity to create and also be able to control our own destiny at times as well. We just want people to understand there’s two sides of the coin. It’s not just one-sided.”

Mark Cuban dismisses Green’s words as prattle. “For him to try to turn it into something it’s not is wrong. He owes the NBA an apology,” the Mavericks owner told ESPN when the issue originally flared. “To try and create some connotation that owning equity in a company that you busted your ass for is the equivalent of ownership in terms of people — that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong in every which way. People who read that message and misinterpret it — make it seem we don’t do everything possible to help our players succeed and don’t care about their families and don’t care about their lives, like hopefully we do for all of our employees — that’s just wrong.”

Green also is askew when he says franchises are arrogant and heartless in moving players. Again, does he not grasp that the owners sign the paychecks? Blake Griffin has outlived his usefulness, a broken superstar unlikely to atrract a nibble on the trading block when he’s making $36.8 million this season, with an option for $39 million next season. So what are teams supposed to do, still treasure him as the dunking demon who once leaped over a Kia when he hasn’t dunked in a game in more than 14 months?

Where Green is right about NBA life not being fair: When the Cavaliers sit Drummond without criticism while Harden is pulverized for tanking in his final Houston days. They’re all wrong, allowing winning to become a distant priority to cold business. Just because players are speaking up now and demanding trades doesn’t make them right. They’re as egocentric as the owners now.

More than five decades ago, Curt Flood fought the baseball lords over the reserve clause. His challenge spawned the beginnings of free agency, which served as rocket fuel for the sports boom. But it’s one thing for an athlete to wait for his contract to expire before pursuing freedom.

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Pre-agency is something entirely different and considerably more lethal. It is a euphemism, in fact, for anarchy.

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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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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