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ESPN Planning ‘Futuristic Look’ For MLB Home Run Derby

“Despite the network planning to display advanced renderings and interpretations of sports data into the broadcast, the top priority remains showing the viewer each pitch as it happens, along with giving viewers unrivaled access to the field, players and spectators.”

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As the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” ESPN continues to pioneer the future of sports event production through its partnership with various properties, including the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. The decades-old staple of the entertainment and sports industry plans to amplify its coverage of Major League Baseball All-Star Week in a contemporary, progressive manner not yet seen in sports television.

According to the network, it will “provide expansive coverage of the 2021 MLB All-Star festivities from July 11-13 in Denver,” including the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game.

The Major League Baseball Draft was exclusively presented on MLB Network beginning in 2009 when Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder and American League all-star starter Mike Trout was taken with the 25th pick in the first round. Since then, the MLB Draft has grown into an event that interests baseball fanatics, and has become an opportune time for other events to be cross-promoted. ESPN and MLB Network simulcast the Draft for the first time in 2020, with the event taking place out of ESPN’s studios in Bristol. For the first time in its history, the Major League Baseball Draft will take place during Major League Baseball All-Star Week, after plans to hold it in conjunction with the College World Series in Omaha fell through due to health and safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had already been pushing to add simultaneous coverage of the Draft with MLB Network,” said Phil Orlins, who serves as the senior coordinating producer of Major League Baseball, Little League and College Baseball for ESPN. “When the draft happened around early July last year, we were super eager to do it because, at that time, we didn’t have many live sports. We wanted to do it again this year, but it’s just not in the construction of our deal with Major League Baseball. I think we were fairly confident that it would work out, [as] it optimizes the visibility of the event for [both] ESPN and MLB Network to cover it.”

When Major League Baseball made the decision to move 2021 All-Star festivities from Atlanta to Denver in early April, logistical challenges were presented to Orlins and his team, who generally start preparing for these slate of events in the early autumn of the previous year. Unlike Truist Park in Atlanta, Coors Field in Denver does not have a connecting venue with the capability to host the Draft, coercing the network to find alternate ways to transmit the event from the new venue, the Bellco Theatre, to the ballpark, venues that are 1.4 miles away from each other.

The move also impacted the planning of the Home Run Derby, an event that has engendered much interest since its inception in 1985. While the original nine-month timetable was quickly compressed down to three due to the decision by the league to relocate the festivities, Orlins knew that his team would be able to handle the challenge.

“We’ve been doing this for a lot of years,” said Orlins. “[The move] caused a little bit of extra urgency and speed to the work, [but] I don’t think it has any real impact as to how the event will be covered.”

Orlins produced the first Home Run Derby broadcast on television in 1993, in which Seattle Mariners superstar and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Ken Griffey, Jr., crushed a home run off of the B&O Warehouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Originally a 30-minute taped show, the veteran producer considers the impact he had in the event’s evolution as one of the signature moments of his career.

“I remember back in the day the seats were free for fans,” reminisced Orlins. “Then, it grew to a $5 charity donation per seat, and now it is a jewel event. It’s been amazing seeing that event capture the public’s fancy.”

ESPN is set to exclusively telecast the Home Run Derby on both the primary ESPN channel and ESPN-2, with each broadcast targeted for different segments of the viewing audience. The parent network, ESPN, will be taking a conventional approach, featuring a broadcast team of Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, Buster Olney and Marley Rivera calling the action and giving viewers an entertaining, traditional viewing experience. Conversely on ESPN-2, Jason Bennetti, Jessica Mendoza and Mike Petriello will explore the contest from an analytics-driven perspective, relying on Statcast technology to examine metrics such as launch angle, distance, exit velocity and barrel percentage to name a few, implementing them into the broadcast. This style of broadcast, which first debuted on ESPN’s coverage of Major League Baseball just prior to the turn of the century, is designed for the astute, perspicacious viewer, and will use graphics and groundbreaking technology to envision these data-powered metrics in an elucidatory, provocative mode.

“The pervasiveness and the capability of what Major League Baseball has been able to do through Statcast is unbelievable,” affirmed Orlins. “We felt [this broadcast] was a chance to more aggressively-serve… diehards who absorb sports and want all the information in every way [it can be presented]… without alienating more casual viewers.”

Since the Home Run Derby began its utilization of an alternative presentation in 2018, the network has watched the proliferation of its viability, and plans to take the broadcast to new heights this year. Even though the Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be exclusively broadcast on Fox as normal, the networks will share equipment to ensure that both their broadcasts eclipse the status quo.

“We have a really aggressive plan to differentiate the visual coverage of the at-bats with significant augmented reality,” said Orlins. “I think it’s going to be a very futuristic look.”

Despite the network planning to display advanced renderings and interpretations of sports data into the broadcast, the top priority remains showing the viewer each pitch as it happens, along with giving viewers unrivaled access to the field, players and spectators. With these concomitant objectives, broadcasting the event to serve all of them was something that presented a challenge to ESPN prior to the advent of the split-screen coverage box.

“We keep a pretty comfortable portrait-style type shot of the batter and pitcher, and we [have an approximately] 4 x 3 coverage box on the right side of the screen,” explained Orlins. “We have a constant shot of the pitch and the swing on one side, and we’re able to track the balls and reactions on the bigger box on the other side. Until we made that move, we were just in an uphill battle at all times; in the worst-case scenario, pitches were being thrown before home runs were landing. There’s a comfort in never losing track of when the pitch is coming.”

Something different from previous years, however, is the highly-saturated marketplace that exists for live sports. The Home Run Derby, usually a showcase, professional sporting event leading up to the Midsummer Classic, has to compete with the N.B.A. Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, along with the buildup towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which are set to begin later this month after a year-long delay. These premium events notwithstanding do not take away from the appeal of the Home Run Derby, as the setting for this year’s event is the high-altitude Coors Field, which, on average, yields the longest home run distances out of any ballpark in the major leagues. Moreover, its showcase participant is the man who is being called the closest thing to Babe Ruth since, well, Babe Ruth himself: the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way phenom, Shohei Ohtani.

“I can’t believe I’m actually saying this,” expressed Orlins, “but the Babe Ruth comparisons actually almost fall short at this point because, while Ruth was an excellent pitcher and the greatest hitter of all-time, he really never did them both at the same time to this degree, and he certainly wasn’t being measured on Statcast either. [Ohtani] is going to be the number one seed, [and] he’s positioned to bat in the spot that will lead our audience to there. I think there is a mystique and intrigue as to what will happen.”

The rest of the field for the Home Run Derby, which includes New York Mets’ slugger and reigning event-champion Pete Alonso, Texas Rangers’ outfielder Joey Gallo and the prolific Washington Nationals’ all-star Juan Soto, is sure to generate peak ratings and cultivate feats worthy of awe and incredulousness among fans and analysts alike.

“We promote the event extremely-aggressively,” said Orlins. “We are very fortunate to have one of the strongest possible promotional stand-out elements of the event, which is holding a home-run hitting contest at a high altitude.”

Following the Home Run Derby, ESPN will feature the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game, which will be broadcast by father-son duo Tim and Jeff Kurkjian. The event will feature notable celebrities including The Miz, Kane Brown, JoJo Siwa and Quavo, along with athletes Larry Walker, Jenny Finch and CC Sabathia.

“It’s an event that probably takes 75 minutes in the ballpark,” Orlins explained, “but gets cut down to about 46 minutes on television. The main thing is [being[ fun and clever [about] things to do with the various participants [at an] aggressive-pace. It’s how you quickly, effectively trim it down, making your commentary make sense when you are trying to eliminate all of the balls not swung at.”

Lastly, on Tuesday night, Jon “Boog” Sciambi and Chris Singleton will be on the call for the Major League Baseball All-Star Gameon ESPN Radio, the 23rd year it has been the national radio home for the midsummer classic. Additionally, Sciambi and Singleton will provide listeners with all the action from the Home Run Derby on the air Monday night.

ESPN’s multimedia coverage of the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities is also available to be streamed on the ESPN App, and will be the first Major League Baseball All-Star Week to occur since July 2019.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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