Connect with us
blank

BSM Writers

Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from the burner accounts of media people.

Jay Mariotti

Published

on

blank

THEY GET IT

Naomi Osaka’s skeptics — Too many columnists are writing scared. Too many commentators are talking scared. To wit: Anyone who raises doubts about the motives behind Osaka’s media boycott and French Open withdrawal — as I did in a column — fears they’ll be vilified as barbaric, insensitive and anti-Asian by the social media mobs. Such backlash, in return, might lead to rebukes from media bosses trying to cover their asses and keep their jobs. This explains the flood of sympathetic pieces that couldn’t look past Osaka’s two operative words — “mental health’’ — when her tug-of-war with tennis officials is more about control. Look, I don’t know of a soul on Planet Earth who isn’t dealing with some sort of mental health issue, nor do I know a person who’s entirely happy to perform all required job responsibilities. That doesn’t mean everybody should just quit and go home; there wouldn’t be a workforce, right? So, should we be disproportionately compassionate toward a 23-year-old superstar who earned $55.2 million last year — more than any female athlete — because she doesn’t want to face certain questions in news conferences? Osaka’s stance is about athlete empowerment, as I opined, and her memorable tribute to police brutality victims wouldn’t have made the same impact had she boycotted media at the U.S. Open. I feel for anyone dealing with depression — unlike FS1’s Skip Bayless, who mocked Dak Prescott for talking about his battles. Contrary to Osaka, Prescott kept suiting up and playing football, making Bayless look worse. All I know is, when a family member fell ill one spring, I asked my radio network boss if I could take a few days off for mental reasons. “No,’’ he said. That’s the real world, Naomi.

Reggie Miller, TNT — The legendary provocateur, reviled in Madison Square Garden and NBA arenas everywhere, is best equipped to address the alarming series of fan incidents this postseason. And he delivered, criticizing the league for enabling a culture in which a water bottle is hurled at Kyrie Irving, popcorn is dumped on Russell Westbrook, Trae Young is spat on, Ja Morant’s parents are peppered with racial slurs and a goof somehow rushes onto the court in Washington. “I was part of `Malice at the Palace,’ ‘’ said Miller, reintroducing the league’s dreaded fans-vs.-players violence narrative to a modern audience. Rather than focus on his large turnstile counts, league boss Adam Silver might confer with Miller, who asks the question on all of our minds: Where the hell is security? What I liked most about his commentary, on a topic broached by broadcast partner Kevin Harlan: Miller pointed directly at the league, not an easy task when his Turner Sports bosses are partners with the NBA. With Irving saying players are treated as if “they’re in a human zoo’’ and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Durant telling fans to “grow the f— up,’’ yes, the league has a very dangerous problem that keeps growing worse.

Hubie Brown, ESPN — It’s time to mute all postseason static and recognize this man as a broadcasting masterpiece. Brown will turn NINETY in two years, yet he’s still twice as prepared and passionate as many analysts half his age. In an age of ranting and scolding and pontificating, he continues to educate and make measured points as a hoops sage. “The Memphis front line,’’ said Hubie, “is not contributing any points, and they’re not giving you the defense in the paint or the rebounds.’’ Stephen A. Smith would shriek that the Memphis front line sucks, but Brown isn’t in this game for attention. Despite sitting in a makeshift studio in Atlanta, with caricatures of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird behind him, he quickly dispensed information as the Utah Jazz made repeated defensive stops: “They’re averaging 24 deflections in the first two games.’’ Sports networks often ship old voices to the morgue when they reach 50 or 60, so credit Bristol for recognizing the vitality of wisdom and ignoring his birthdate (Sept. 25, 1933). What if Brown keeps running it back until he’s 100? For now, I’m loving it when his commentary leads into a rap verse before a commercial break. That’s it: Someone record The Hubie Hustle.

Russell Westbrook, filmmaker — Rising above the arena hatred, which has included racial taunts in Utah, Westbrook put his name and money behind the History Channel documentary, “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.’’ Any prominent athlete can capitalize on stardom by making a self-aggrandizing sports doc, but Westbrook wants to be defined by more than basketball and triple-double sprees. “The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books. It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event,’’ he said. “This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told.’’ The Michael Jordan doc has led to the Tom Brady doc, the Mike Tyson doc, the Derek Jeter doc, the Serena Williams doc and too much sports docu-mania. Westbrook remained above the creative fray.

Clay Travis, conservative talk host — Using his sports site to advance his political leanings might have had scattered success during a pandemic, when Southern followers embraced his rhetoric that COVID-19 was overblown. But Travis is much better off leaving sports and his Fox Sports Radio program to replace Rush Limbaugh, joining partner Buck Sexton on one of radio’s biggest platforms. “As I looked at the data during 2020, the story it told me was clear,’’ Travis wrote on Outkick. “As much as people might enjoy my sports opinions, they loved even more when I talked about issues that were, frankly, far more important than sports: my belief in American exceptionalism and the meritocracy, my rejection of cancel culture and identity politics, (and) my repudiation of everything woke in our culture.’’ Travis will be a right wing fixture for the long haul and eventually will inhabit a regular chair on the Fox News channel. As for Outkick, it has been purchased by Fox but I doubt it will remain a sports site as much as a conservative destination for its cultists. Sports can say bye-bye to Travis, who never belonged — which made him refreshing until he wasn’t.

Joey Votto, careerist — At 37, with his baseball career trending downward to a crawl, Votto is no fool about future work possibilities. Rehabbing a broken thumb at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park while the Reds were out of town, he heard a request from the broadcast booth: Would he like to join team announcers Tommy Thrall and Chris Welsh on their remote radio call of the Reds-Cubs game? One of baseball’s most fascinating personalties, Votto made his way upstairs and instantly flashed his personality when Thrall introduced him as a future Hall of Famer. “You didn’t introduce me. You said `future Hall of Famer,’ ‘’ Votto shot back. “Easy there, easy, easy, easy, easy, easy … current Reds IL member.’’ By all accounts, his performance was insightful and delightful, and in the vast wasteland of MLB analysts, he should be front and center on the Fox, ESPN and TNT radar. He also extended this column to extra innings in becoming the Sixth Who Gets It.

L. Jon Wertheim, cross-pollinating overlord — I’d just finished reading his work on Prince’s fondness for all things basketball — muttering to myself, “On my best day, I’ll never write half as well as this guy’’ — when I flipped on “60 Minutes’’ and saw his piece on German pianist Igor Levit, who has managed to find audiences digitally and stay relevant during a pandemic. Then, as the Osaka story broke, Wertheim put on his tennis cap for Sports Illustrated’s website and weighed in. As SI’s executive editor and a supreme writer, he’s the biggest in-house reason why a once-beleaguered magazine still features the best top-drawer content among sports digital sites. Sometimes, personal bio taglines are overwrought, but when SI describes him as “one of the most accomplished sports journalists in America,’’ it’s actually underselling his versatility — a topic worthy of a Seventh Who Gets It.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Aaron Rodgers, overexposed — It was powerful when he hijacked the NFL Draft to demand a trade. It was exquisite when he fulfilled a dream by guest-hosting “Jeopardy!’’ It was riotous when he explained his grievances with the Packers on friend Kenny Mayne’s final “SportsCenter’’ appearance. But when social media was flooded with photos of Rodgers and his Hawaii traveling party — purple-bikinied fiancee Shailene Woodley, bromance partner Miles Teller and his wife — this officially became the Offseason Of Aaron. And I’m officially tired of it. With every new Rodgers development, it smacks of a calculated media takeover, as if premeditated step by step, week by week, through the imagination of a very clever man. It would be nice not to hear a peep from him until he decides either to rejoin the Packers or boycott them until he’s traded. But — ding! — there goes my latest Rodgers phone alert: The Packers are holding firm on their stance that he won’t be dealt. Which means, Rodgers will be responding soon enough, perhaps from Croatia or Bora Bora.

Pat McAfee, bullshit artist — Just because he’s having big success in the sports audio space — and I can’t exactly explain why — doesn’t mean McAfee should run with stories before at least trying to corroborate them. (Dear Pat: The dictionary definition of “corroborate’’ is to confirm or give support to a finding.) McAfee made the mistake of crossing his frequent show guest — you guessed it, Rodgers — by botching details surrounding an alleged assault victim — you guessed it, Teller — in the bathroom of a Maui restaurant. In his role as a “Smackdown’’ wrestling commentator, McAfee thought Teller knew his attackers and compared the incident to a tag-team beatdown. Teller responded with a tweet to McAfee: “I got jumped by two guys in a bathroom. Never met them before in my life but ya cool wrestling segue bud.’’ To which McAfee responded: “Miles.. I apologize for not knowing the whole story. I will fix my position and make it right… with that being said, it was a pretty good segue.” The segue, of course, always is more important than getting the story right to begin with.

Retro cancelers — When so many areas of law are subjected to statutes of limitations, it’s interesting that media companies reach back decades and fire employees for alleged sins. It’s just as interesting that some do not. Because I don’t know what happened and won’t pretend to, I will not pass judgment, for instance, on whether ESPN’s Woody Paige yelled at a 24-year-old editorial assistant and called her a “cunt’’ when he was executive sports editor of the Denver Post in 1992. According to the American Journalism Review, Carrie Ludicke received $25,000 in a confidential settlement following her sexual harassment complaint while Paige, though denying ever using the word, lost his position but kept his salary and column. Should ESPN retroactively fire Paige today? Cancel culture would say yes; Paige defenders would say the episode happened almost 30 years ago in a workplace that didn’t involve ESPN. What can’t be disputed: There is too much selective justice in retro cases, depending on current politics and cronyism and who’s on the right or wrong side of those walls. I see a new story on this topic every week, and I cringe at the lack of corporate consistency. It’s time to find an equilibrium.

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN — I’m troubled that Herbstreit, college football’s leading analyst, still can’t taste or smell after testing positive for COVID-19 in December. He took to Twitter, writing, “Been 5 months since I tested positive for Covid. Still can’t taste or smell. Anyone else experience this?? Did it ever come back?? Haven’t tasted a meal since late December. After 5 months…is this my new normal or will taste and smell come back???” Rather than asking important medical questions on social media, shouldn’t he, um, see a doctor? The good news: If Herbstreit has to eat crow on a prediction, he won’t taste it. The bad news: ESPN might not want him around partner Chris Fowler and production employees if the condition persists in August.

New York Times — In my sphere of media consumption, the Times excelled through a pandemic to remain the gold standard of go-to news operations. So why would a prestigious site, having successfully transformed to digital while poised for a continued long run of profitability, ponder acquiring a struggling operation such as The Athletic? As pointed out by Sportico, “It is less clear why the NYT would be interested in making a big bet on a growth business that has seemingly stalled, is losing money and competing in an extremely competitive digital media environment.’’ Beyond the financials, why jump into bed with the sports industry — as a whole, The Athletic remains too cozy with leagues, franchises and broadcast networks — when the Times is among the few shops committed to robust, independent journalism? If the Times comes to its senses and says no, it would be the latest bitter pill for Athletic founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, who also were rejected recently by Axios. I’d consider buying The Athletic, but as I once told Mather and Hansmann over breakfast in San Francisco, there’s no need to have hundreds of payrolled staffers when a strong stable of 50 well-known columnists would serve a smarter, more impactful purpose. Maybe the Times, which has deprioritized sports coverage, will reach my conclusion, which would mean mass layoffs if this deal actually happened.

Jim Jackson, TNT — Sure, I could mention how I love hanging out in Santa Monica at R&D Kitchen and Esters Wine Bar, or with Kendall Jenner and Devin Booker at Nobu in Malibu. But that would be a cheesy form of payola, of which the NBA game analyst hasn’t been apprised by his network bosses. As he vies for a promotion after the dismissal of top analyst Chris Webber, Jackson is impressing only himself by name-dropping “The Capital Grille’’ in downtown Miami — “where I smoke my cigars’’ — and “Myles’’ Chefetz, known to league nightlife vets as the restaurateur behind South Beach’s Prime 112. Jackson didn’t know it, but play-by-play man Brian Anderson was chiding him by saying he’d never pay for a meal again at either place. I’m assuming that former NBA players on TNT aren’t prepped about the basics of broadcast professionalism, because the list of screwups is growing by the day. Me? I’m endorsing Reggie Miller for the lead analyst position. Because I did added work on a Sixth Who Doesn’t Get It, I’m going to treat myself to lunch at the Sunset Tower Bar in West Hollywood, where I know Gabe, the maitre d’.

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.

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

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.

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

blank

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement blank
Advertisement blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2021 Barrett Media.