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Talking Through Tragedy With Will Palaszczuk

Tyler McComas

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May 20, 2013. 

A day I’ll never forget.

I had been in the radio business a little over two years. Just 23 years old, my main duties included producing various shows throughout the day, setting up live remotes and doing color commentary for high school football games. This particular day, I was headed to set up a remote for the afternoon show that began at 2:00. I was to arrive at Norris Marine at 1:30, a boat store in my home of Norman, located less than three miles away from the city of Moore, Okla. 

Spring days in Oklahoma typically mean warm, muggy days with the chance of thunderstorms. Living in this state, you accept the fact that severe weather is routinely going to be a part of your daily life. That’s just how it is. As Will Rogers, a famous columnist, radio personality and actor, amongst other things, once put it, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change.”

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A quote all Oklahomans know by heart became a stunning reality on May 20th. 

The potential for severe weather was high that day, but it didn’t seem that way, as I drove across town under bright, sunny skies and warm weather. Though two lives were claimed the day before due to tornadoes, the early afternoon hours were nearly picturesque and gave a snapshot of an ideal spring day. 

At 2:30, the show was off and running after two opening segments. As usual, I was still on-site at the remote, just in case the connection went bad and kicked the show off the air. By then, nobody could turn their attention away from the skies that had went from sunny to dark and ominous in a matter of a few minutes. Seemingly, out of nowhere, the risk of a severe tornado was suddenly imminent as a nearby TV filled live shots of the storm located just a few miles away from our location. 

At 2:56, an EF-5 tornado with a width of over one mile, dropped on the ground. It raced towards Moore, a city that had been devastated by a similar tornado just 14 years prior. For 40 minutes, the deadly twister traveled 14 miles, causing billions in damage and claiming the lives of 25 people. 

By the time the storm had dissipated, two hours still remained in the show. One would probably assume the show would be cut short, however, with new affiliates just signing on, the two hosts were required to stay on the air during the entire four-hour broadcast. In one of the darkest days in the history of the state, how could one be expected to carry on with a sports radio show? How insignificant must talking about sports feel when people just lost their lives a few miles down the road?

To this day, I still admire how both of those guys, Teddy Lehman and Dusty Dvoracek, were able to handle that afternoon and finish the show. Even for the most experienced show hosts, there’s no blueprint to know how to handle a situation like that. No esteemed university, successful program director or thick textbook can teach you how to conduct a sports radio show amidst tragedy in a nearby area. 

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That’s the prevailing thought I had last week, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the coastal states. Several college football games were cancelled as the incoming storm was almost sure to bring along flooding, heavy damage and loss of life. When Monday came around after the damaging weekend, what was a sports radio host in South Carolina supposed to talk about? Do you discuss the weekend of college football and NFL action, just to provide an escape for people? Do you offer updates on the aftermath of the hurricane and dedicate your entire show to it? Again, there’s no blueprint for how to handle a unique situation such as this. God willing, none of you reading this will ever have to experience it. 

But some have, including Will Palaszczuk a host on SportsTalkSC in South Carolina. Though Palaszczuk does his show in Columbia, which didn’t suffer near the damage that other surrounding coast cities did, several affiliates of the show across the state suffered heavy damage from the hurricane. 

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Sometimes, your role as a show host in this situation is to carry on as normal. Try your best to do a normal show to serve as an escape for the listener. Other times, it’s to inform and offer condolences to the situation at hand. Maybe the best way, is to mix in both, providing the best of both worlds to the listener. Regardless, it comes down to your instinct. Trust it. Whatever feels right at that time, go with it. 

Palaszcuk doesn’t have a handbook to teach him how to handle a show during a week like this, but he’s making due and moving forward the best way he knows how. How exactly has his show handled it? He answered that question and more during a tragic time for his state of South Carolina. 

TM: Where are your affiliates at and which ones were affected the most?

WP: Our show broadcasts out of Columbia, SC, but we have affiliates in the upstate areas such as Clemson and Greenville, and other affiliates in affected areas such as Florence and Myrtle Beach. Altogether we have about 30 affiliates, all across the state. 

TM: Knowing last week that this storm was coming, and football games across the coast were being canceled, how did you guys brace for it?

WP: Our role is unique as a network sports talk show. We feel like our local affiliates are handling the micro situation as far as whats happening with local communities. We set our role as the sports talk show, we want to run a sports talk program, but we also want to be sensitive to the fact that there’s another thing going on.

We didn’t ignore the issue, but felt our role was to create a diversion. We knew there were a lot of stations that were going wall-to-wall with weather coverage, especially in the affected areas. From that standpoint, we wanted to provide what we think is our best option of programming, which is a sports talk show. We do that, but with the sensitivity that there will be certain events that are impacted by the hurricane.

We covered South Carolina’s game being cancelled, we had the athletic director on the evening it was announced. Clemson didn’t make a final call on their game until Friday, but we had their athletic director on to discuss the decision for them to decide to play. Having the relationship we do with both of those athletic departments, gave us the ability to go to them and let them voice the reasoning behind the decisions to a statewide audience. 

It’s different, having covered a lot of these on a local level, I spent a lot of time in the Midwest and as you know in Oklahoma, you cover a lot of tornadoes and things of that nature. You kind of have to go into almost a news, wall-to-wall type mode. But like I said, in this instance, our role was unique that we’re a sports talk network that provides sports to a number of affiliates. We just felt our role was to create a diversion. 

TM: Did you get a lot of positive feedback from that? 

WP: We didn’t get as many calls as we would in a normal week, just because people were so preoccupied. The one thing we did get a good response from, was the interviews with both athletic directors. We got a lot of praise in that regard. Just the fact we were able to handle it from an outreach standpoint that we were able to get both of them on.

The one thing we try to do, is take the pulse of the South Carolina people. It was hard in this state to not be cognizant and mention the storm. We couldn’t totally ignore it, but I don’t think it would have served us any good to go wall-to-wall with it. That doesn’t serve our general purpose. 

TM: What about social media? Your own, the show’s account, was that very dedicated to news stories or was it business as usual there, too? 

WP: We put out, anytime there was a cancellation, especially with our smaller schools in the state. We had a couple of those. We try to use our page as not only a news gathering situation, but also to inform and show people the content we provide. 

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TM: How much did the cancellation of football games change the way you cover college football in the state? 

WP: Well, between my partner and I, one of us is usually at a South Carolina or Clemson game. We usually split that duty up. One of us is at one, the other is at the other. It just happened to work out that my partner was at Clemson and I was at home. We didn’t see it being productive for us both to go to games, in case something was to break, especially since the storm was supposed to go through Columbia that day.

If anything was to break, I was on standby in case anything happened. Fortunately, nothing did, at least in our part of the state. But there were places that did get hit hard and we acknowledged that, right off the bat, on Monday. There are some parts of the state that are still largely affected, and we’re sensitive towards that.

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The big story, sports wise, is how South Carolina is going to make up that game. As an impartial network, our role is to, sometimes, ask the tough questions. When we had Clemson’s athletic director on, we asked how he would respond to the people that are critical of his school still playing a football game during this time. I would think you’d probably get a fair answer, but it’s probably still open to criticism, because of the fact there were a lot of those emergency personnel that could have been used in other parts of the state.  

TM:  Maybe sometimes, we, as show hosts, can lose sight of what’s really important. Was this a good reminder for you that it’s all about serving the audience and really providing an escape for them?

WP: I do know, that at least for those two hours, it was an escape from the Weather Channel and things of that nature. When you are a producer of a consumer product, such as a sports talk show, you also, by default, are a consumer as well. You’re consuming what the masses are consuming, which is a lot of weather related news and apps. We were all in the same boat and it makes you feel very connected with the listener.

At least from our perspective, we wanted to make sure that those who wanted to come to our show for sports talk, got sports talk, but with the understanding that we were mindful with what was going on. Even though it wasn’t going on outside of our window, it was going on outside the window of several people listening to us. We continued to pump out info for how people could donate to the relief effort, the Carolina Panthers put out a t-shirt that goes straight to relief efforts, and we pumped that on Monday.

It’s something where we feel we’re the voice of the people in our state. We recognize who we are, and what our role is. In this particular situation, we believed it was to be to provide an escape. 

 

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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