Yep, this is absolutely what America needs right now, a political argument about a logo. This is where we are in 2021: A truther who has said the world is flat, Kyrie Irving, lobbying to replace the old, white dude in the NBA silhouette — presumably Jerry West, though the league never has confirmed it — with an image of Kobe Bryant, whose memory is widely revered even if he hurled an anti-gay slur and was accused of rape by a teenager who wasn’t his wife.
And we’re actually supposed to hunker down and take sides on this matter, igniting a race inferno that has been reasonably tame since Donald J. Trump returned to his previous life as a golfing liar.
“Gotta happen, idc what anyone says. BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE,” Irving posted on Instagram, launching a campaign with a next-day addendum: “As a native Black man, a native Black king, it’s part of my responsibility to continue to push our culture forward. I know that it probably was met with some people who love the idea and some people that don’t like it. My thing is paying homage to the example that has been set by that man.”
Normally, my debating reflex would counter with my pick, LeBron James. In the league’s most turbulent era, he has melded all-time basketball greatness with an unprecedented double whammy: a social conscience potent enough to help dislodge Trump from the White House and a leadership presence resilient enough to guide the Lakers to a pandemic championship amid 95-day isolation. James has avoided scandal. James has remained a family man. James hasn’t driven an SUV while gacked out on opioids. James should be The New Logo.
Until, I wondered: Why does anyone specifically have to be in a new logo?
Can’t we just have something generic and inoffensive, exhausted as we are from activism fatigue?
The NFL logo is a red, white and blue shield with a football and eight stars. The Major League Baseball logo, with the same American flag colors, shows an indistinguishable batter preparing to hit a pitched ball that surely is juiced. The Olympics logo was designed with five rings from the participating continents at the time. The NHL logo is duller than commissioner Gary Bettman himself, a silver crest with diagonal lines. College football logos pay tribute to the cash-machine conferences, including the Big Ten’s optical illusion. Major League Soccer’s logo is half-empty (look it up). The only other sports logo that might depict a particular player is the WNBA’s, an orange silhouette resembling the elegance of West’s image, though the league won’t say if it’s Diana Taurasi.
So why exacerbate what remains a volatile era in the NBA when the logo simply can be redesigned without a person in mind? Or is that too easy?
What could be a fun discussion in another time and place — which historic figure best symbolizes what is fondly called the association? — is an attempt by Irving to use the logo as a power play. Understandably, he and other Kobe proponents think a Black legend should represent a league in which three-fourths of players are Black yet only one majority owner — Michael Jordan, also a prime logo contender — is African American. “I think he deserves it,” Irving said. “I think his family deserves it. I think we deserve it (after) seeing greatness personified as Mamba. And anyone that’s coming into the league should know that’s the example that was set.”
I am not opposed. I just don’t understand why — right here, right now. The Black Lives Matter movement inside the Disney World Bubble, which included commanding signage and powerful game boycotts, didn’t end the tension that roils the league today. We don’t need a logo squabble poisoning the pot. Some Black players are reluctant to heed commissioner Adam Silver’s hope that they take coronavirus vaccines, knowing a history of racism in the U.S. health care system has fueled a fear of injections within African-American communities. It reflects a continuing unease in the ranks about the virus, which hasn’t stopped the league from conducting an All-Star Game next weekend despite opposition from James and other prominent players.
The league also is investigating a tweeted allegation by ex-Jazz forward Elijah Millsap that Utah executive Dennis Lindsey, who has helped build one of the league’s leading contenders, told him this in a 2015 exit interview: “If u say one more word, I’ll cut your Black ass and send you back to Louisiana.” Lindsey denies making the comment and is backed by Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who was present during the conversation, but in a smallish market with a predominantly White population, the story has disrupted the team’s rise and forced a busy Silver to state, “We take allegations of discrimination seriously, so do we also take the due process rights of those who are being accused, which is why we do full investigations. And in this case, the investigation is being conducted in partnership and in coordination with the Utah Jazz.”
Meanwhile, Silver was voicing remorse about comments he made in 2019. In an HBO interview, he said Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, one of only four Black executives running basketball operations in NBA franchises, was partly to blame for his altercation with an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy after the Raptors won the NBA title at Oracle Arena. Video footage revealed that the deputy, Alan Strickland, initiated physical contact with Ujiri, and both parties dropped lawsuits last month. Said Silver at the time: “It’s part and parcel of what comes with someone who is living on the edge a bit and is hard-wired to sort of march forward with incredible energy. And I think lessons learned for him — without assigning culpability or blame to anyone — as a leader, those are the kinds of situations he needs to learn to avoid.”
After Ujiri’s recent declaration that he was “completely vindicated,” Silver told Canadian network Sportsnet, “I apologize to Masai for what I said in that interview. … Believe me, when I look at that now, I cringe when I watch it,” adding that he regrets not checking “my own built-in implicit biases around a particular situation.”
This as the NBA deals with its version of a Rooney Rule violation. The NFL has made a mockery of that rule, of course, with White team owners largely giving lip service to league requirements that Black candidates be seriously considered for head-coaching and executive positions. So explain why the Minnesota Timberwolves, after firing coach Ryan Saunders, were so quick to name a White replacement, Toronto assistant Chris Finch, without conducting interviews with numerous worthy Black candidates, including their own lead assistant coach, David Vanterpool? Finch is an offensive innovator and disciple of Raptors coach Nick Nurse, who has won an NBA title with Ujiri. Still, why the mad rush? With the league’s worst record, it’s not as if the Wolves are going anywhere.
The swirl of racial conflicts continued Friday night when James, shirtless, went on the attack in his post-victory Zoom interview. Soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been critical of James’ activism, saying in an interview with a Swedish network, “I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time. Do what you’re good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I’m the best at playing football. I don’t do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good.”
Responded James: “I would never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community. Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on, and I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice. And I’m their voice. I’m their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world. So there’s no way I’d ever just stick to sports, because I understand how this platform and how powerful my voice is.”
LeBron also made Zlatan look bad, recalling how Ibrahimovic had spoken in 2018 about “undercover racism” he’d encountered from media in his native Sweden. “I am not Andersson or Svensson. If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank. They would defend me, I tell you,” he said then.
Said James: “He was the same guy who said when he was in Sweden … because his last name wasn’t a certain last name, that he felt there was some racism going on when he was on the pitch. I speak from a very educated mind, so I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.”
On the same night, the NBA’s official minor league, the G League, was looking into claims by former NBA guard Jeremy Lin that he is subjected to racism. Now with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Lin wrote in a Facebook post, “Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called `coronavirus’ on the court.” Over the weekend, Lin tweeted he wouldn’t be “naming or shaming anyone” in the probe. Wrote Lin, who briefly rocked the sport with scoring flurries as the first American-born NBA player of Chinese descent: “What good does it do in this situation for someone to be torn down? It doesn’t make my community safer or solve any of our long-term problems with racism.”
So, with considerable angst bubbling in the National Basketball Association, we’re going to approach a revamped All-Star Sunday — and the outsized media attention accompanying it — with furious sparring sessions about the logo? As Bryant’s widow was weighing in with her approval (“love this @KyrieIrving”), she also was learning for the first time that actress Evan Rachel Wood had called her late husband “a rapist” the day of his fatal helicopter crash.
Vanessa fired back at Wood. “Your false, insensitive, defamatory and slanderous tweet on 1/26/20 is vile and disturbing to say the least,” she wrote. “Behavior like this is part of the reason why innocent black men go to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. An accusation doesn’t make someone guilty. YOU DON’T KNOW THE FACTS OF THE CASE.”
You know what’s crazy? Jerry West never wanted to be the man in the logo. It just happened that way as a league-commissioned consultant poured over various images in 1969 and came up with what appears to be West. Thus, The Logo was born. Four years ago, West seemed agonized about the topic when appearing on ESPN’s “The Jump” program. “Again, it’s flattering. But it’s also, I think — if I were the NBA, I would be embarrassed about it,” he said. “I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself, and when people (call him The Logo), that’s just not who I am. If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would.”
The NBA can change the logo, sure.
To the simple image of a basketball, round and pebbled and not at all flat, unlike Kyrie Irving’s complicated world.
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.