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Mics On Players Could Mean More Eyes On Baseball

“Imagine during a replay review, hearing the players on the field looking at the video board and reacting to the call? I want to know how that sounds. I think you want to know as well.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I hear it: “baseball is so boring”. It makes me crazy because I know how much strategy goes into every pitch, every play and every moment. It’s just that these moments aren’t always flashy or entertaining. The attention span of the average fan is getting smaller and smaller, thanks in part to the smart phone. As a fan trying to watch a baseball game these days, I find I want more. I want the broadcast to be interesting enough for me not to be surfing Twitter or checking emails during the game.

Are Baseball 'Fans' Who Get Hit By Foul Balls Looking at Their Phones? –  Black & Blonde Media

Keep my attention. Give me some personality, not just from the announcers, but from the players during the broadcast. 

Baseball telecasts try to make things more interesting with graphics and interviews, but something is missing. In order to make fans more aware of the personalities of some of their favorite players, why not hear from them ‘in game’? Microphones on key players would solve this issue and allow fans that peek behind the curtain that many crave. Major League Baseball needs to do a much better job of showcasing its superstars and this would be one easy way to do this. Show off the players’ personalities. Athletes are entertainers as well. They get paid a ton to play a game we’ve all played for free so why not get them more involved? In this day and age of social media and instant reaction, fans would eat up this extra layer of access. I realize there’s a lot that would have to go into this, but let’s examine the facts and what has been done before. 

Fox has done a brilliant job in televising the All-Star Game in recent years. It’s great because the network and the players understand what the game is intended to be, an exhibition featuring the best of the best in each league. Once the ridiculousness of the game counting was cast aside like a dirty shirt, the personalities came out and that’s what it’s all about. Fox’s booth conducts interviews with players on field as the actual game is going on. With the proper camera shots for perspective, it’s a real look into what the player is seeing from his vantage point. Plus, we get to hear some of the banter between teammates too. I’m fascinated by the inside look into what it takes to play the field.  

There has to be a way to do the same thing during a regular season game and into the playoffs. Mic’d-up players would make more people interested in a game that could use an injection of some fun for a change. The two, fun and baseball, have been mutually exclusive over the years. This would help the cause immensely. The biggest sales job would probably be on the managers and front offices. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts wasn’t too thrilled that Justin Turner was mic’d up during the playoffs last year against Milwaukee. It didn’t negatively affect Turner’s performance so it wasn’t a big deal.

Justin Turner mic'd up | 09/30/2020 | Los Angeles Dodgers

To avoid those types of pitfalls, interviews could be recorded in between innings near the dugout and played back over the current action. Use a box in the lower right or left to keep viewers in tuned with what is happening on the field. How cool would it be to hear from the left fielder that just made a sliding catch to save two runs and end the inning? Very, is the answer.  

To appease those nervous about this idea, you could figure out a way to capture sounds of the game without the player even wearing a mic individually. Mets’ first baseman Pete Alonso gave the league permission to place a mic near first base at Mets games last season to pick up conversations between himself and the baserunner.

“I think it’s fun to actually share kind of like live, almost like first stream of conscious type deal going on,” he told reporters in 2020. “It’s interesting for sure.” Yes, as interesting as an inadvertent F-bomb he uttered during one broadcast. Ok, so there’s another point for not airing these conversations live. There’s the matter of conversations between coaches and teammates that could be intercepted by live mics. 

As a baseball fan, I’ve always wondered what those conversations are like at first base. But why stop there?  Take me inside the conversation when a manager comes out to pull a pitcher from the game. If the pitcher just walked the bases loaded what does the manager say? If the hurler wants to stay in, how does he lobby to do that? Interesting, behind the scenes stuff.

Ok, how about taking me to the bullpen, what is the bullpen coach telling the reliever about the upcoming hitters and who to get ready for? What are the catcher and home plate umpire talking about during a game? What happens during and after a bench clearing incident? How do those conversations go? Imagine during a replay review, hearing the players on the field looking at the video board and reacting to the call? I want to know how that sounds. I think you want to know as well.

Come on, you know you do! 

I really don’t think we’re asking too much as fans, are we? NFL Players are mic’d up every week in regular season games. These guys are playing a much more physically demanding game and still wear the wire.  Reading lips is fine, but actually hearing those words would be riveting. What better reason to stick around and watch a long, boring game, to see what Player X is going to say next. I don’t think I’d be alone in that thought process. The same can be true in an exciting, tension filled game, how are players reacting to situations? Coming through, not coming through, cheering on a teammate or celebrating a win. I would love to get that nearly instant reaction straight from the player. What better way to fill the lulls? As you know, there are many in a typical game.

MLB postpones 2 Monday games following player coronavirus outbreak

Ok, so say the players aren’t game to do this. I’ve got other ideas that could be pretty interesting, at least to me. Let’s from time to time hear the TV control room in action. I want to hear (and see) the director talking to his/her camera operators, the producer talking to the booth setting up the next element. Or, how about putting a mic on the bat boy? Maybe the folks running the scoreboard? How about the organist? Give me something, please. 

Baseball could use the boost for its product. Regional Sports Networks could use the “hook” to lure in new viewers and keep some of its dedicated viewers engaged. Even if this doesn’t happen every game, I’m good for Mic’d up Monday, aren’t you?

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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