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Media Coverage May Pressure NBA to Change Free Agency

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The late night start to NBA free agency has never been ideal for TV viewership, but with the 2018 edition kicking off at 12:01 on a Sunday morning, it may have been even more lost in the shuffle for the league’s casual fans. Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing ponders what the league may do to avoid the same problem in the future.

There are a couple of different elements to consider here. One is the free agency period being linked to the first of the month rather than the days of the week, which is what made this year’s free agency stand out as particularly poorly-timed for media coverage compared to other years. The 12:01 a.m. Eastern start is pretty usual, in basketball and in other sports, but having that fall on a weekend this year was rough from a media perspective. And yes, it’s easier from the contracts side to just say all contracts expire as of June 30 each year, but changing that so free agency would always open, say, at 12:01 a.m. on the first weekday in July might have some advantages from a media perspective. (The first weekday seems like a better bet than “the first Monday,” as then there’s no chance of it falling on the July 4 Independence Day holiday.)

But beyond that, having free agency open at 12:01 a.m. Eastern isn’t the most practical solution. Again, that’s probably done because it’s easier for contracts and because it’s always been done, and other leagues do it as well. But it should be possible to set that time to whatever the NBA and the players’ association agree on, hopefully in consultation with media partners. Other elements such as trade deadlines are in the middle of the day, and those have turned into media extravaganzas (especially when it comes to the NHL trade deadline in Canada).

As Bucholtz points out, trade deadlines never have late night end times, so from a business standpoint, it shouldn’t be impossible to make a change. Also, the timing of free agency’s launch each year means that the NBA has a real chance to dominate public conversation and the pundit-filled airwaves if the league takes steps to time it properly every year.

The truth is that players and teams are going to get deals done when they get done. The NBA cannot force anyone to keep from posting something regarding their future on social media, but Bucholtz argues that moving the season’s kickoff event can be used to build the fanbase.

And this isn’t just about keeping media outlets happy; in fact, that’s the lower concern. The bigger issue is that the NBA has an event that’s generating tremendous interest, something that could theoretically be held at any time they and the players’ association agree on, and it’s happening at midnight on a weekend when many media can’t give it a full-court press. And the timing also means that the opening in particular is being followed more by the hardcore fans (especially on the East Coast) than by casual fans. Making the deadline at a more media-friendly time could pay significant exposure benefits for the league.

You can read the full column at Awful Announcing.

Sports TV News

Stephen A. Smith Details How Kobe Bryant Handled Criticism

“Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant.”

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We are approaching the three-year anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of former NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reminisced about the former Laker during an appearance on The Howard Stern Show Wednesday.

While promoting his book, Straight Shooter, Smith shined a light on his relationship with the five-time champion, saying he knew if he received a phone call from Bryant, the resulting conversation was likely to be contentious.

“Kobe scared the living shit out of me,” Smith said. “Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant. So when Kobe called you — I can quote him for you right now. Voicemail: ‘You know who this is, motherf—er. Get your ass up, pick up the f—ing phone and call me back. That bullshit you just said. And don’t keep me waiting for so long, either. Your ass better not go on the air and say some more shit before you talk to me.’ That was Kobe. I would say something along the lines of ‘I don’t like the way he’s playing. It’s selfish basketball…I don’t like this decision.'”

Smith continued by commenting on Bryant rebutting that he would only play “selfish basketball” when the players around him weren’t playing up to their potential, before then saying Bryant was open to criticizing coaches if Smith was critical of the 18-time All-Star.

“‘He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, Steve. He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, so you don’t know what the f— you’re talking about, Stephen A. So you’re gonna bring up all that shit you’re talking about me, but you didn’t bring up that.'”

Smith then concluded by saying Bryant would tell him “I don’t know why I love your ass. I really, really, don’t. But I love you.”

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Sports TV News

Super Wild Card Weekend Ratings Down Slightly From Last Year

Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers over linear television and streaming platforms.

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Ratings for nearly every Super Wild Card game of the NFL Playoffs opening weekend have been released, and while the numbers are encouraging on a per-game basis, overall, they show a slight dip from last season.

ESPN was first to unveil their ratings, showing Monday’s contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which aired on both ESPN and ABC — was watched by an average of 30.6 million viewers. That number is the largest NFL audience from the Disney-owned channels since Super Bowl XL in February of 2006. The 30.6 million viewers number is a 32% increase from last season’s game that saw the Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals.

“This exceptional number proves once again that live sports are unequaled in amassing large audiences,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “The success is also a clear reflection of how ESPN, working alongside the NFL and our colleagues at Disney, can help attract fans, build anticipation, and expand our reach. Even without a dramatic ending, it was an extraordinarily memorable evening.”

When final viewership totals are announced, it is expected that the game will be the largest NFL Playoff broadcast in the history of The Walt Disney Company’s ownership of ABC/ESPN, which began in 1996.

FOX Sports touted the highest viewership total of the weekend, with 33.2 million viewers watching the New York Giants defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The broadcast peaked at over 40 million viewers in the final minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s San Francisco 49ers win over the Seattle Seahawks saw an average audience of 27.4 million.

An average of 28.6 million watched the Cincinnati Bengals thrilling triumph over the Baltimore Ravens on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. According to the network, the broadcast was the most-watched Sunday primetime program since Super Bowl LVI in February of 2022. Ratings for the Jaguars and Chargers broadcast on Saturday were not made available, but NBC Sports did claim that for the first time since 2021 both of its broadcasts eclipsed an average of 20 million viewers.

Finally, CBS Sports scored it’s most-watched Sunday AFC Wild Card game in nearly a decade as 30.8 million watched the Buffalo Bills defeat the Miami Dolphins. Similar to other broadcasts, the game peaked with nearly 40 million viewers. Coincidentally, the game was the most-streamed Wild Card game in the history of the network’s streaming platform, Paramount+.

Even with several networks experiencing noticeable highs, the numbers are a slight decrease from 2022. Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers on linear television and streaming platforms.

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Sports TV News

Mad Dog To Stephen A. Smith: ‘Can We Move On From This Stupid Book?’

“You’ve made a fortune. We get it! The book’s not bad! We can move on!”

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Stephen A. Smith is a busy man this week as he hits the interview circuit to promote his new memoir Straight Shooter. Some of those interview obligations have taken the First Take host away from the ESPN show that made him a star. His friend and part-time partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo wants to make sure Smith has his priorities straight.

“Your meal ticket is here, in that chair,” he said on Wednesday’s edition of First Take. “Your meal ticket is not on these radio shows; not on these TV shows. How dare you miss openings of shows to do radio or TV interviews!”

The segment was clearly done tongue-in-cheek as both men smiled through the interaction, but Mad Dog let Smith have it. He said that he was already sick of the book.

“Enough already! You’ve made a fortune. We get it! The book’s not bad! We can move on! Can we move on from this stupid book? I’ve had enough of Straight Shooter!

Molly Qerim and Marcus Spears laughed as they looked on. Qerim even added that she hoped Dave Roberts, ESPN’s head of NBA and studio production, who oversees First Take, was watching.

After Mad Dog’s rant was over, Smith had a chance to fire back. He stayed calm and simply pointed out that while Russo may be sick of the promotional tour for the book, he is feeding the beast.

“Where am I appearing on today? You said you’re tired of the book, but you’re talking to me at 4 o’clock.”

Smith and Russo will likely continue the theatrical tete-a-tete on Wednesday afternoon on SiriusXM channel 84.

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