The new edition of the USFL is another place where players can showcase their talent to hopefully impress an NFL team. This rebirth of the league is a place for broadcasters and analysts to showcase themselves for next-level jobs too. The stakes are relatively low, meaning the audience isn’t sitting around waiting for the USFL games like they would on an NFL Sunday. Mistakes can be made, made again, and then corrected. Just like for the players, the announcers are getting reps.
Count former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett among the ones getting those precious reps. He and Jac Collinsworth make up the top broadcast team of the USFL on NBC. Garrett has seen it all in football. Coordinating producer Matt Marvin told The New York Post that he expects fans to like what Garrett has to say.
“I think his passion and relatability came across during rehearsals,” Marvin said. “Jason has been a quarterback, head coach, coordinator and a position coach in the NFL, so his football knowledge is unparalleled, but he displayed the ability to put things in terms that we could all understand. He also has a tremendous energy that you can really pick up on. Football has been such a big part of his life and that is reflected in the way he calls the game.”
You’d think he has a unique perspective on the game, but does it translate to television? Well, early on, I’m not so sure. It’s not an easy move from the field to the booth, to say the least. It takes some work and work is needed in this case.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into being an announcer. And obviously, I don’t have a ton of experience with that, but I was just trying to have some fun up there,“ Jason Garrett explained to 105.3 The Fan after the opening game of the USF season.
It’s true, not just anyone can hang up the coaching headset and trade it in for a broadcasting headset.
“There’s definitely a lot of mechanics to go with the rhythm and the timing to get comfortable with that,” he told 105.3 The Fan. “I do believe football sets up well and that you have a play-by-play guy who describes the actions then the color guy jumps in. Trying to get the feel for each other.”
He and Collinsworth had never worked together before. They did a couple of rehearsals in Stamford, Connecticut to get ready, but it’s hard to replicate the real thing in a studio. There is so much more that goes on in the booth and during a real telecast. Something not lost on Garrett now.
“You got to get used to the producer talking to you. Got to get used to understanding where my eyes should go – to the field or the monitor or to the replay? All of that, and then hopefully being able to share something insightful for the viewer. So, you just kind of work through all those different mechanical things.”
With all that said, I watched the NBC telecast of the game between the New Orleans Breakers and Tampa Bay Bandits last weekend. I was not all that impressed. The production value is good. But there’s a lot going on. We hear random voices of coaches calling in plays to the quarterback, live mics on the field picking up trash talk and that’s on top of the play-by-play and commentary.
Back to Garrett. He was like a fish out of water. He looked stiff during the open, was talking in very choppy sentences and seemed to be trying too hard and thinking too much.
I wasn’t sure why I would have expected better from a first-year guy. There had been plenty of hype around him. Maybe that upped my expectations.
I get the fact that this is new to him. It’s also just the second real game he’s done with Collinsworth. To be honest, Collinsworth didn’t do Garrett many favors.
Early in the game the analyst barely spoke. He wasn’t jumping in when there were obvious spots for him to do so and it sounded weird. Collinsworth didn’t seem to be paying attention to it, even when Garrett wasn’t reacting to questions designed to bring him into the conversation. We went through the lineups, first down, and second down without hearing the analyst. Finally, after the 2nd down play, Garrett chimed in for the first time.
Fans of the Cowboys often said that Garrett spoke in clichés and never showed a ton of emotion while coaching. He clapped his hands a lot according to all the memes I saw when researching this column.
Why do I mention it? Because a lot of the early commentary offered very little insight. There wasn’t much that I couldn’t have found out by reading each team’s game notes.
It almost sounded like he was offering up coach speak at a press conference after a game. “3rd and 3 ain’t easy,” the Breakers’ quarterback was, “getting better each and every day,” oh and he was also playing “at a high level”. The Bandits’ secondary needed to “shore up their coverability”. Those were just a few of the cliches that Jason Garrett said during the broadcast.
He also had a nervous laugh throughout the broadcast. It wasn’t a full belly laugh; it was that type where you’re not exactly sure what is so funny. He also used “WOW!” several times. That’s not expert analysis.
I could see the play and think to myself “WOW!” but why was it a “WOW!” play? Give me a little something here.
As the game went on, Garrett seemed to be warming up a bit. But he went from 0 to 60 faster than a Lamborghini. Starting in the 2nd quarter, Garrett started to feel it a bit and wasn’t waiting as long to jump in to fill those spaces he needed to fill. There was a little more emotion.
The only problem was that he started talking over things, like the referee’s calls and even over Jac Collinsworth. He worked both sides of the extreme in just a quarter of action. He was starting to feel more comfortable later in the 2nd half. He was getting wordy though.
Garrett was taking too long to make his point and was still talking about a replay when the telecast returned to live action. There has to be a good balance. Not all of it was Garrett’s fault completely.
You could also tell that Jason Garrett was working with a less experienced play-by-play guy. Collinsworth, and the producer quite frankly, could have helped him early on. Set him up. Put him in positions where he doesn’t have to really think about what to say and just be natural. I’m not an advocate for the announcer interviewing his analyst, but sometimes that’s what it takes early on to get that analyst comfortable. Bring him in more early in the game. Get him into the flow in the first quarter and the rest will take care of itself.
I would have liked to have heard much more about his perspectives on the game. How does he view it as a coach or even as a former player? There were a few times he started to go that direction when talking about New Orleans quarterback Kyle Sloter, who was playing with a groin injury. Jason Garrett started to talk about just how difficult that is for a QB. He told the audience how the injury affected his drop back and his side-to-side movement. He didn’t come back to that at all though. I understand overkill, but this was something he had experienced. Give me some insight! Teach me something! Give me a reason to be amazed at what Sloter was doing!
Garrett is a smart guy. He played quarterback at Princeton and Columbia. He suited up for four different NFL teams. He played in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League. Garrett was a head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He is the son of a football coach.
My point? There are plenty of experiences he could be drawing from. He’s probably forgotten more about football than most people watching the broadcast even don’t know that they don’t know. Garrett needs to use these experiences to better tell the story about what he is seeing on the field.
He’s not a coach right now, so there is no need for him to be buttoned-up in his commentary. There are no press conferences, he’s not making the decisions on the field. I’d like to see him loosen up a bit and have some fun. Coaches are used to wearing a loss. When they become broadcasters, they can put the headset down and go to dinner when a bad game is over.
Jason Garrett has to find what works for him. There are a lot of examples of former coaches that have gotten into the broadcasting realm. He shouldn’t try to copy them, but figure out his niche. He doesn’t have the personality of Jon Gruden or John Madden, and that’s fine. Garrett should start with just being himself and using his knowledge of the game to bring the viewer some insight.
Once Garrett lets his guard down and lets himself get into the flow of the game he’ll be fine just telling the viewers what he is seeing. Until then, he’s just that persona he created as the former Cowboys coach – bland, speaking a lot and saying nothing. I hope that changes soon.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
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.