Every sports radio host dreams of the opportunity to cover an historic team. One that becomes the biggest national headline en-route to a championship. It’s great for ratings, it’s great for a hosts own personal profile, plus it’s absolutely thrilling to be right in the middle of all the hype and excitement. Whether it was Jordan and the Bulls in the 90’s, the triplets in Dallas winning three Super Bowls, the Red Sox’ historic run in 2004 or even the Golden State Warriors teams of today, the desire to cover teams that will always be remembered is a dream that few hosts get the opportunity to do.
David Glenn knew Duke would be good again this year, but he wasn’t sure just how dominate they would be. That was to be expected, as the entire nucleus of the team is built around four freshman starters and little help from any returning upperclassmen. But even though the hype was strong, seeing as Coach K was bringing in four 5-star talents, few expected what was to come in the season opener.
It was almost exactly one month ago on November 6th in Indianapolis inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was Duke vs. Kentucky with the entire country watching. Sure, No. 1 Kansas had just looked impressive in the previous game beating Michigan State, but that story would be buried by the end of the night.
The first few minutes was close between the Blue Devils and Wildcats, but soon after, the lead kept growing and growing and growing for Coach K’s team. The heralded group of four freshmen, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, made a statement that the entire world of college basketball both heard and felt with a 118-84 win. Not only had Duke asserted itself as the best team in the country, but fans instantly realized this could be a team unlike anything Mike Krzyzewski had ever fielded before.
For sports radio hosts in North Carolina such as Glenn, an opportunity to cover an historic team had just presented itself. Sure, it was just one game, but Duke caught the entire nation by storm that night and became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, story in all of sports. Since then, the hype around the Blue Devils has only grown.
For sports radio hosts, you always want to cover a team that moves the dial. That can mean covering a team that wins a championship or even covering a team that’s historically bad and has fans up in arms and upset. Regardless, it’s all about fielding a reaction. Obviously, covering an historic team is more enjoyable for a multitude of reasons, but the thing you always hope to avoid is a team that’s mediocre and garners no strong reactions.
Heard across the entire state of North Carolina, including over 250 towns and cities, the David Glenn Show is humming along nicely this time of the year with Duke basketball often as the lede story. But what’s it like when you’re covering a potential historic team in the middle of the year? Glenn shared some thoughts on the whirlwind of the past month as well as what’s to come.
TM: At what point did you realize this was wasn’t just any ordinary Duke team?
DG: One of my first contributions to The Athletic was exactly on this topic. Basically, the word unique is often misused, but it means one of a kind. I believe, and I think history backs it up, nobody has tried to follow four freshman in an attempt to win championships. Coach K had the three in 2015, Kentucky head coach John Calipari had the three one-and-done players in 2012. It’s not the first of its kind, in terms of utilizing superstar one-and-done freshman, but it is one of a kind when your four best players are freshman.
But as a writer and a radio host, I realize you better follow recruiting even if you don’t love it. I’m not that old, but there are people in my age bracket that roll their eyes at the idea of following recruiting. I’ll never forget when the famous Billy Packer used to say that he didn’t pay attention to that stuff and that he’d wait until they were in college to make his own judgment. Well, he had a fantastic career and more power to him, but in today’s day and age, if you don’t follow recruiting, you’re about a 1,000 miles behind the story. If you don’t pay attention to it, most of your readers and listeners will know more than you do, by the time they take the floor for the first time.
My background involves following recruiting, so I saw Zion Williamson in all-star games. I saw RJ Barrett in international play. I saw Cam Reddish as a star high school player. I think part of doing your job, especially nowadays, is following the recruiting trail so you’re up to speed when these guys get to their college campuses.
TM: I agree with that and have always thought it with college football recruiting, but is it even more so with college hoops, considering the turnover is much higher for teams?
DG: Yes, I’ve always said you can be a college football fan without be a recruiting freak. Now, there’s going to be the occasional player where you better have your eyes wide open or you’re going to be behind the curve, but with so many freshman redshirting and even so many of the stars needed a year or two, college football remains a different animal.
In modern college basketball, we expect to see freshman on the first team All-America team, right? We expect to see freshman competing for ACC Player of the Year. The ACC was around for 60-plus years and had never had a freshman as its player of the year. Well, guess what, those days are over because Jahlil Okafor was the first in 2015, so there’s your symbolic proof. You go from 60-plus years where no freshman won it, to Okafor in ’15 and Marvin Bagley in ’18. Plus, you have Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett as the favorites to win this year. That says a lot about college basketball and how freshman can impact it so quickly.
TM: When you’re talking about Duke on your daily show, do you feel you’re judging them on a different scale than past teams, considering how historic they may be? Are listeners doing the same?
DG: Yes, there was a little momentum for that even before they played a game. But when they not only played Top 5 Kentucky, but ran the Wildcats out of the building in the season opener, that really ramped up the expectations. That changed the conversation. It went from a curiosity about how high the team’s ceiling was going to be, to some people suggesting that Duke was a favorite to go undefeated. The first since the 1976 Indiana team.
Just as someone who’s been around for 31 years, I told them they weren’t crazy to see the high level talent, but to please pump the brakes. Every other college basketball team of all sorts of fantastic vintages has fallen short of running the table and winning a national title without a single blemish since 1976. Yes, this team is viewed differently by many Duke fans. You probably saw Coach K call out his own fan base last week, asking them to not contribute to the hype machine, unnecessarily. In Coach K’s eyes the media does enough of that.
I share his view and think he was right on point, just like he usually is. He could sense that his own fan base had such extraordinary expectations that they were becoming unrealistic.
TM: Whether it’s talking about them more, leading off with them more, guests, have you conducted your show any differently since Duke could be historically good?
DG: I would say that I’ve tweaked my show, but I have not turned it upside down. Our show is syndicated state-wide, so I can’t cater just to The Triangle. I’m not talking to the entire nation either, but I am talking to the entire state of North Carolina. I have to blend national headlines with in-state headlines. Whenever anything is happening in North Carolina that reaches national or international headlines, it’s my sweet spot as I’m coming to almost 300 different cities and towns in the state.
Like when the Panthers went 15-1 in the NFL and made that run to the Super Bowl. That’s not just a North Carolina story, that’s a national story if not international. We were pounding that drum all the time. Similarly, the hype surrounding these Duke freshman, combined with the hype that Coach K teams usually get, combined with Zion Williamson as the YouTube sensation, combined with NBA scouts and the possibility of these guys going 1, 2 and 3 in next year’s draft. Every one of those facts just contributes to a perfect storm, where I’d be crazy not to tweak my show with that in mind.
When I’m talking college basketball in November and December, which are, for the most part, football months on the calendar, I’m not forcing college basketball down people’s throats when I’m grabbing national and international headlines and huge names like Coach K, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. If it was just another Duke team, there’d be some college basketball talk in November and December, but because it’s this Duke team it’s a no-brainer regular topic.
TM: Are you to the point where you’re having off-the-wall topics and conversations, such as how many of these freshman would start on an all-time Duke starting 5, or where this team ranks against the greatest ever? Are you there yet?
DG: Yeah, we had the conversation on if they’d go undefeated. We’ve had the discussion on if this is the best team I’ve seen in my 31 years of covering the ACC. We’ve had people asking me to do the research on if any team has ever had three Top 10 picks in the same draft. The answer is yes and it’s only happened one time. Florida’s national title team in 2007 did it. So I did that research and that’s another example of my audience asking me to treat this differently and do that research. I’ve even been portrayed as the bad guy for suggesting, at this point in the season, Virginia is just as good as Duke if not better. I feel like I’m wearing a villain’s black hat by not jumping on the superlative bandwagon, if you will. I’m just being candid, that’s my style.
I don’t play to a fan base and if I’m hyping something, it’s because I believe what I’m saying. There’s some radio hosts out there that do play to a fan base, but that’s just never been my style. I think we even saw against Gonzaga that these freshman have a lot to learn as college basketball players. At their worst, they’re a Top 10 team, but if they want to truly be the best come March Madness, they need to keep learning from Coach K.
TM: With that being said, you’re not outwardly rooting for Duke on press row or cheering for them at home in a blue sweatshirt, but at the same time I’m sure you see an opportunity if they keep winning games. Is there any part of you that is rooting for them because it would help ratings?
DG: I tell fans all the time, and as anybody in our industry knows, many fans believe media members are rooting for this or against that in all sorts of context. I try to tell them all the time, what we root for are compelling stories.
Duke, with these freshman and that legendary coach, is already a compelling story. If they continue to blossom it only gets that more compelling. They are, in at least one category, nobody has ever followed four star freshman, without any accomplished veterans providing the supporting cast. It’s never been done before. It’s good for our show when there are fun, interesting, compelling, success stories to follow. Many fans will think that you’re rooting for or against a certain school. Whatever. I wasn’t born or raised in North Carolina. I didn’t get here until I was 20. I don’t have a rooting interest when it comes to college sports.
Unapologetically, I root for good stories because it’s good for the show and our audience. That means it’s also good for our sponsors and affiliates.
TM: When you’re covering a team of this magnitude, does your national presence get a bump, considering you’re probably being asked to be on more radio and TV shows than normal?
DG: There’s no doubt that the phone rings more often and you get more radio and TV appearances. There’s no doubt about it. When I was in my 20’s, a story like this would take a small set of invitations and maybe make it grow exponentially. Now, it’s just sort of a tweaking of my normal schedule.
I’ve always done more shows as a guest than I do as a host. In other words, I have a noon to 3 p.m. show here. Five shows times 52 shows a week, let’s just say roughly 250 shows a year as a host. I’ve always done more than that as a phone guest. When Duke plays like this or when Carolina had three different national title teams under Roy Williams, or when the Panthers are chasing a Super Bowl, it all matters.
The bigger the platform, the bigger the story, and the bigger the name, the more the phone rings. There is absolutely no doubt that this Duke team is good for my career and my profile. Even more importantly, it’s great for the radio show because it offers so much compelling content on a regular basis.
On Sunday Night, Everyone Is Watching Karl Ravech
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving.”
Karl Ravech injured his knee while playing soccer at Needham High School and needed to make a decision on what he wanted to pursue as a career. Always having an interest in both sports and writing, Ravech made the decision to attend Ithaca College as a communications major. Throughout his time in upstate New York, he worked hard to take the next step in his career by quickly immersing himself in the professional world, serving as the sports director at NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, N.Y. and a freelance producer for WCVB-TV in Boston, Mass. – all while attending classes.
Upon his graduation, Ravech attended SUNY Binghamton to earn his master’s degree in management and leadership. Just as he had done previously, Ravech worked in the professional world as he pursued this degree, now as a sports anchor and reporter at WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y.. In 1990, Ravech earned his degree and relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. and was nominated for two local Sports Emmy awards for his reporting on baseball and golf.
Ravech was hired as an anchor by ESPN in May 1993 and has been a fixture at the network since, working in a variety of different on-air roles. He is now the primary play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Baseball, occupying the seat behind the microphone for Major League Baseball’s biggest matchups every week. Getting to this point in his career has been a journey that has required Ravech to consistently adapt and develop, and, in turn, has augmented his versatility.
“What I like about my story over the years at ESPN from 1993 to the present is that it’s constantly changing and evolving,” said Ravech. “I think the fact that it hasn’t stayed stagnant is what’s wonderful, and the Sunday Night Baseball booth is sort of the next iteration in [my] career.”
Ravech began hosting the overnight edition of SportsCenter with Mike Tirico and Craig Kilborn upon his being hired, and became the primary host of Baseball Tonight and postseason baseball studio coverage starting in 1995. After recovering from a heart attack he suffered while playing pickup basketball with colleagues in 1998, Ravech hosted golf coverage for the network as Tiger Woods became the youngest golf pro to ever win a Grand Slam, and also continued his baseball duties.
Starting in 2006, Ravech began his immersion into the broadcast booth when he became a commentator for Little League World Series broadcasts. Each year, he makes the trip to Williamsport, Pa. to call the action on ESPN and ABC showcasing young, talented baseball players while also telling their stories off the field. Additionally, Ravech has served as the voice of the College World Series on ESPN since 2011, calling the championship action each year from the Charles Schwab Field at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
The style of both of these broadcasts differ from calling a Major League game in that there is more time to delve into the backgrounds of each of the players and tell the unique stories they bring – especially for those participating in the Little League World Series.
“I’d love to be able to bring that same level of joy to a college game or a Major League game, but I think it’s obvious that it’s a little more serious,” said Ravech. “You’re talking about, in the professional ranks, people that are getting paid; and there’s a lot of pressure on the college kids and their fan bases are very passionate.”
Much like a performer, one of the roles of a broadcaster is understanding and catering to their audience; that is, to understand exactly why a person may be watching or listening to a game and what they seek to gain from it. When a broadcaster is able to pull back the curtain and see the game from the perspective of an audience member, it allows them to foster a deeper connection with the audience as a whole and modify the broadcast accordingly.
“The little league crowd that’s on TV is very different than the one that you get for a College World Series game and certainly for a Major League Baseball game,” explained Ravech. “They have baseball in common, but I don’t think that the expectation when you watch the Little League World Series is to dive too deep into Xs and Os… It’s really about why most people came to the game, which is to enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Being aware of the viewing audience has been central to Ravech’s early success as the new primary voice of Sunday Night Baseball, as it differs from the viewers he had previously been communicating with on Monday Night Baseball, a role he took on in 2016. Yes, calling games on Mondays and Wednesdays undoubtedly required ample preparation; however, Ravech’s new gig has required a shift into how he applies his preparation to the broadcast.
“On Sunday night, [everyone is] watching, which means you have got to be as prepared by talking to the players and coaches as you possibly can be because the people who are consuming it know as much about the team as you do,” said Ravech. “It’s not as if we are preparing any differently, but you’re certainly paying a great deal of attention to just the two teams.”
Throughout his time at ESPN, Ravech had worked extensively with Eduardo Pérez: a former Major League player and experienced analyst. Whether it was in the booth at the College World Series or calling Korean Baseball Organization games remotely in the middle of the night during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo has developed a synergy on the broadcast.
Pérez is able to extrapolate unique storylines during the game because of his profound ability to communicate with those around him.
“As we walk through the stadiums, he is talking to people who are doing everything in the building – whether they are operating an elevator; whether they are the general manager; whether they are a player; whether they are welcoming people into a clubhouse,” Ravech said of Pérez. “He knows everyone, and those connections make him so valuable.”
Someone Ravech has been familiar with over his years living in New England is former all-star pitcher and YES Network analyst David Cone, albeit from covering him as a player and watching him on television. Ravech called ESPN being able to land Cone this offseason “the last piece” to assembling the new booth, all while Cone is still slated to call 50 Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Prior to the 2022 campaign, Ravech and Cone had not worked together; yet just a few games into his new job, Ravech has been impressed with his colleague.
“He recognizes that in order to communicate properly we, collectively, have to understand what it is that we’re talking about – so you’re not just throwing terms out there that may sound good but you don’t know what they are – and he’s very aware of that,” Ravech said of Cone. “He’s the complete package when it comes to an analyst in 2022.”
Along with being the voice of Sunday Night Baseball, the College World Series and the Little League World Series on ESPN, Ravech has also served as the voice of the SEC basketball tournament since 2017. Being on the call for high-stakes matchups, such as the Kentucky Wildcats against the Tennessee Volunteers, or on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, is an exciting part of Ravech’s job throughout the calendar year. But no matter the sport; no matter the league; no matter the game – there is a consistent aspect of Ravech’s vernacular he is cognizant of every time he steps behind the microphone.
“I think my style, whether it’s in the studio or in the booth, is to really engage with the analyst,” said Ravech. “That part of it is, I think, a common trait through all of my broadcasts and I want to continue to do that.”
Having the ability to engage in genuine conversation with his analyst comes in actively listening and molding the conversation to fit most optimally with what is being discussed, even if it means departing from what he had originally planned. In this sense, he sets his partners up for success during the broadcast, part of the reason why he has been adept in working with different personalities in varying atmospheres across different sports.
“If you listen, then your follow-up questions will not necessarily be ones that you have written down already,” explained Ravech. “[Your analyst] has opened up this door, and you better be able to be willing to walk through it with them because they’re trying to say something and you’ve got to get it out of them.”
While Ravech, Cone and Pérez call Sunday Night Baseball games in the style of a traditional broadcast, there are several elements of the entire viewing presentation that demonstrate ESPN’s willingness to adapt to changing media consumption trends. One of these elements includes the addition of the new KayRod Cast, which became the most viewed alternate broadcast during a Major League Baseball game during the season debut of Sunday Night Baseball. The broadcast, featuring New York Yankees play-by-play announcer and 98.7 ESPN New York host Michael Kay, along with all-star third baseman Álex Rodríguez, diverts from the traditional style of broadcast through longform conversation, special guests and commodifying the act of watching a live baseball game.
“Baseball to me is an ideal platform for things like the KayRod Cast,” Ravech opined. “I think David, Eduardo and I spend a great deal of time focused on the game, but I think there are times where you can veer off and get into some entertaining conversations, and I certainly know that the guests that are on the KayRod Cast offer opportunities like that as well. Baseball lends itself to things like ESPN is doing right now, and I’m grateful to be in one of those booths.”
One of the elements within the traditional Sunday Night Baseball broadcast that lends to the commodification of the sport is putting mics on players. It’s a new element in Sunday Night Baseball this year. Fans have been given a firsthand perspective, essentially divulging the in-game mindset of a Major League player. Occasionally though, the action finds the interviewee mid-sentence during a game, as it did Francisco Lindor recently – and those are moments where all the broadcasters can do is watch and hope for the best.
“You’re kind of holding your breath that he makes the play instead of his being, in some way, distracted by the conversation,” said Ravech. “We’re incredibly sensitive to that. We try to, for the most part, stay out of when they are at the plate; there’s no talking to them. But in the field, they understand that this is an opportunity for them to share with the consumer at home a real on-the-field view that people would not otherwise get.”
Appearing as the featured player on Sunday Night Baseball garners plenty of significance and gives players the opportunity to connect with their fans and the larger viewing public. Having the chance to share your perspectives on national television during a game has become a badge of honor, and players from each week’s matchup have nominated a player for the next week’s game to wear the microphone. So far, ESPN is batting 1.000 in that department, as everyone who has been nominated has appeared on the following week’s broadcast.
“Joey Votto was very different than Ozzie Albies [who] was very different than Kike Hernandez and Francisco Lindor,” explained Ravech. “The list is great, and every one of them has provided unique looks into the game and their positions and their communication styles and skills while they’re on the field and in the dugout.”
Occasionally, a player will opt to stay on the microphone for an extended period of time as Phillies outfielder and reigning National League Most Valuable Player award-winner Bryce Harper did a few weeks ago. Harper was the designated hitter for that night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and stayed on the microphone for four innings of the contest.
“It was incredible,” recalled Ravech. “We got a chance to talk to one of the biggest names in the game for four innings; he almost became a quasi-analyst with us. It was really neat, and I think the viewer benefits from it.”
As Ravech’s career continues, he seeks to improve in all areas of his work and try new things if the opportunities arise within ESPN’s broadcast portfolio. While there is always the chance of opportunities presenting themselves at different media outlets, Ravech affirms that since the network continues to innovate and remains the leader in coverage, he wishes to continue working with them.
“I think [ESPN] is going to continue to evolve for sure,” said Ravech, “and I feel very comfortable about the direction they’re going to go in and continue to ride along with them.”
Any additional career endeavors that Ravech desires to pursue will be because he had actively pursued them, and he is excited to discover what lies ahead in his career.
“I’m not one of those who looks at it and says, ‘I want to call a World Series. I want to call a Final Four,’” said Ravech. “If that all happens, then there will be a reason. I’ll have sought those out, as opposed to the way this has happened – which is you kind of just keep moving around and finding your lane like water does down the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of it; it’s organic – there’s nothing linear about it.”
Ravech has worked with a wide array of broadcasters throughout his career at ESPN, including Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Fowler, and has spoken to aspiring broadcasters on numerous occasions as well. One broadcaster he has had the opportunity to mentor firsthand is his son Sam, who has grown to become a play-by-play announcer on the SEC Network, ACC Network and ESPN, making his debut for the latter at 22 years of age.
Through mentoring his son and other young broadcasters, Ravech has learned that having authenticity in the on-air work that you do allows for one’s true personality to shine through no matter the sport being played or medium on which the broadcast is being disseminated.
“I always encourage Sam to be himself. Don’t try to be somebody else; don’t use somebody else’s voice; don’t try to speak the way they do,” said Ravech. “Be you, and hopefully over the course of a long time, people will come to respect you [and] your work.”
Sometimes, getting opportunities in sports media comes in being uncomfortable; that is, broadcasting or talking about a sport with which you may be unfamiliar or having to relocate outside your home market to accept a job. By working to transform feelings of discomfort into those evoking contentment, sports media professionals can successfully learn to grapple with change, and be prepared for it the next time it happens.
ESPN saw potential in Karl Ravech in his early years at the network and has been open and receptive to giving him opportunities both inside and outside of baseball as time goes on. In order for Ravech to grow as a broadcaster though, he had to work to enhance his craft – but none of that would have been possible had it not been for Ravech being open to and embracing change.
“Be malleable. Be flexible,” said Ravech. “That’s what I would tell anyone, whether it’s my son Sam who I’m incredibly proud of, or anybody getting into it. You just never know which way this career is going to go and the things it’s going to expose you to. You just don’t.”
The Big Ten Could Change The College Football TV Landscape Forever
“It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games.”
The college football world, and the college football Twitterverse, was lit the night of September 22, 2018. The fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners were being taken to the wire by Army, a team that still runs the triple option in an age when offenses routinely throw the ball 40+ times per game. The National Championship picture was already going to be blurred a bit and we’d barely even started the season. We all left our games of choice in search of the end of regulation and the eventual overtime only to find a relic of days gone by, the game was only available on a pay-per-view telecast.
In the days before massive conference media deals, the pay-per-view games were a regular occurrence, normally reserved for the Southwest Louisianas and Pacifics of the world visiting town. For you kids, Southwest Louisiana is now The University of Louisiana and Pacific once played football, sort of. Not even regional telecasts had an interest in those games, so you called your local cable company and shelled out $39.95 to watch a poorly produced telecast of an absolute bludgeoning.
Incidentally, one other way you could watch these pay-per-view games was if you had access to one of those C band satellites. In my youth, it was a sure sign of wealth. It looked like your neighbor had raided a NASA facility and stolen a satellite at gunpoint. You couldn’t hide them, either. They would sit out in the middle of your lawn like you were trying to communicate with beings from a neighboring solar system.
My friend had one of these satellites and we spent hours watching random things like Spanish language shopping networks. Where else can you buy an authentic matador cape for four easy payments of $39.95? We also found news analysts awaiting their live shot window while applying one more coat of make-up or adjusting their toupee. It occasionally kept us out of real trouble, even if it wasn’t the height of entertainment. But, I digress.
The concept of the stand-alone pay-per-view game seemed to have been dealt a near fatal blow with the massive ESPN and FOX deals with the major conferences. It was finished off and buried with the launches of the conference television networks. Technically, almost all the games are “pay-per-view” in that I pay my provider each month for the sports channels but I no longer have to find a channel I otherwise never use and watch color bars in anticipation of an announcer I never see trying to sell me on the importance of a game in which the home team is favored by five touchdowns.
The imminent Big Ten Conference media deal is going to be a big one but, according to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, it may include something many college fans have never encountered, major games only available on streaming.
Warren told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that Amazon and Apple will be potential major players in the future deal. It would be a departure from the normal business plan for the two streaming giants to settle for games featuring a directional school playing a Big Ten power. That means the real possibility of a meaningful Top 25 Big Ten game being available only on a streaming service.
The NFL is already in this bed with Amazon. Notre Dame has also dipped their toe in this pool with a 2021 game exclusively available on Peacock. There has yet to be a conference go all-in to this degree. It appears the Big Ten could be the first major conference to embrace major streaming services carrying its top games. Somebody had to be first, as the Big Ten was with the Big Ten Network, and you can be sure every conference commissioner is watching.
There is a certain comfort to finding games in the way you always have. I imagine dialing up Amazon Prime for the big Wisconsin at Penn State game will have the same feel as dialing up the random channel for the old school pay-per-view.
My family is uniquely prepared for this as we have, apparently, chosen to purchase our streaming services like we are buying them in a Sam’s Club family pack. The Amazon deliveryman visits my house so often I asked my accountant if I could declare him a dependent on my taxes. The Big Ten won’t be sneaking a streaming game past me!
This will come with a certain amount of criticism, no doubt. Many fans pay for their satellite or cable packages primarily for their favorite team’s games. Now, my conference of choice will ask me to add a streaming service on top of this. It’s a smart move by Amazon or Apple. Big Ten fans will sign right up and promptly forget to cancel as soon as the season ends and the $14.95 will keep being drafted whether you watch Severance, or not. My wife and I gave the first Severance episode 15 minutes and moved on to Bridgerton. For your information, I only watch Bridgerton for the well-written dialogue.
This feels like a seminal moment in sports TV, not unlike the 1995 Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. That was the night ESPN chose to televise college basketball’s most-watched rivalry on ESPN2. It forced cable providers, and viewers, to say: “Wait, big games will be there too? It’s not just Jim Rome and Jim Everette fighting?” In the length of a two-overtime classic Tar Heel win, ESPN2 became a necessity for any true sports fan.
Now, you’ll have to pry the Michigan-Ohio State game out of FOX’s cold dead hands but, if Amazon or Apple wants this to work, they’ll pay the money that would put any other Big Ten game in play for them. That is the only way you convince the average fan to pay more for the services they don’t already have. Money obviously isn’t an issue for Amazon and Apple, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook could realistically be under the impression they are actually buying the physical states that make up the Big Ten.
If Amazon is the winning bid, their football profile is off to an impressive start. The Sports Business Journal reports they are among the leaders for NFL Sunday Ticket to pair with their current national games, a deal believed to be worth $2 billion per year. Add major Big Ten games to the mix and it won’t be long until other conferences are interested in joining the platform.
For Apple, it would be a new sporting venture to pair with their national MLB games, giving them an extended profile. Not shockingly, they are also in the mix for the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package according to Sports Business Journal. All of this means I could eventually watch one of these games on my watch. We truly are living in the time of The Jetsons.
If not now, soon. Amazon and Apple don’t just go away. Clearly, they are interested in being major players in sports streaming and have the money necessary to get a seat at that table. If not the Big Ten, another college conference will be on board, but make no mistake – the Big Ten would be a major pelt on the wall for either company. Speaking of walls, this news may mean it is time to add another TV to yours. Amazon has some great deals right now.
Peacock’s ‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ Hits Baseball Broadcast Sweet Spot
‘MLB Sunday Leadoff’ feels like meeting up with an old friend while ‘Friday Night Baseball’ has been more like going on a blind date.
Sunday was Mother’s Day, so it probably already felt like a special day for many families and households. But for baseball fans, the late morning felt particularly warm and festive with the debut of MLB Sunday Leadoff on Peacock and NBC Sports.
Breakfast and baseball? (Maybe “brunch and baseball” is more appropriate with the pregame show beginning at 11 a.m. ET, followed by the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox playing at 11:30 a.m.) Who might have guessed the two would blend together so wonderfully until Peacock showed us?
Yes, sports fans have woken up with tennis, soccer, the Olympics, and the NFL in London for many years now. But as the Sunday Leadoff broadcasters mentioned a few times, a morning start time felt like getting up early to play a Little League game, reviving a happy memory for so many fans.
And though baseball has endured criticism for its slow pace and idyllic vibe in recent years, those aspects seemed to fit with a Sunday morning — when some might be waking up, returning from quiet early errands, or coming home from church — just perfectly.
The Peacock broadcast certainly embraced comfortable nostalgia with its presentation, with Vin Scully narrating the introduction, reminding (or informing) viewers that NBC was once the home for Major League Baseball for more than 40 years with Saturday’s Game of the Week. Baseball returned to the network for six years, from 1994 to 2000, but had been elsewhere for 22 years.
To younger generations, that may not matter. Baseball has been readily available on Fox, ESPN, TBS, and more importantly, regional sports networks. But NBC always felt like home for the sport with voices including Scully, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek, and Bob Costas. Even on a streaming platform, with Sunday’s debut simulcast on a linear broadcast network, baseball being back on NBC (or an NBC product) just felt right.
However, promoting the game’s past and tradition isn’t the best way to appeal to younger fans. MLB Sunday Leadoff seemed entirely aware of that, bringing an energy and excitement to its presentation that made baseball feel vital. Host Ahmad Fareed and analyst Nick Swisher made the broadcast feel like an event, informing viewers of the White Sox and Red Sox and which players were worth watching.
Bringing on popular online baseball personalities like Rob Friedman (aka @PitchingNinja on Twitter) to break down the starting pitching match-up between Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel and Boston’s Tanner Houck was also a nice touch.
A highlights package of Saturday night’s action opened its arms to fans of all ages. Fareed and Swisher narrated the action enthusiastically, making the footage feel as if it had to be seen. (Swisher may have been too enthusiastic for 11:30 in the morning — 8:30 a.m. on the West Coast — but those familiar with him shouldn’t be surprised that he came across as very caffeinated. He’s a high-energy dude.)
Even better, the theme from This Week in Baseball played with the highlights. More specifically, the theme song is titled “Gathering Crowds,” composed by John Scott, and played over the closing credits of the show with a montage of baseball action. Want to get an older baseball fan excited? Play that theme song.
The actual game broadcast was smooth as well. Those who didn’t know otherwise might guess that play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and analysts Steve Stone and Kevin Youkilis have often called games together. They sounded comfortable with each other in a three-man booth setup that doesn’t always work.
Of course, Benetti and Stone work together on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox broadcasts so there was obviously familiarity there. With the plan for Benetti to work with rotating analysts associated with the two teams playing each Sunday, it was a fortunate circumstance to have Stone in the booth. That made a more welcoming environment for Youkilis, who’s new to broadcasting this season on NESN’s Red Sox coverage.
Benetti certainly helped with making Youkilis comfortable, asking him questions about playing at Fenway Park (as a batter and fielder), his approach to hitting, and how he strategized against opposing pitchers. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering how many different analysts Benetti works with while calling basketball and football. He’s an utter professional who elevates his partners and makes broadcasts fun.
Sunday’s telecast also benefited from some luck. During the fourth inning, Peacock had Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo mic’ed up, a feature that’s worked well on many baseball broadcasts so far this season. Verdugo provided good insight on how he handles playing in front of Fenway Park’s iconic Green Monster, dealing with fly balls, caroms, and throws in a setting unlike any other in MLB.
But the game was delayed when home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was hit by a foul ball off his mask. Kulpa seemed stunned by the impact and was checked by trainers before leaving the game to be examined further. That resulted in a 20-minute delay while first base umpire Marty Foster changed into proper gear to take over behind home plate.
Yet for viewers watching on Peacock or NBC, the stoppage may not have felt so long because the broadcast crew and Verdugo engaged in an extended interview that felt more like a conversation, covering topics ranging from being traded for Mookie Betts, dealing with the wind as an outfielder, and favorite restaurants in Boston. It surely helped that Verdugo has been mic’ed up for broadcasts before and was already comfortable with such a situation. But the timing of it all worked out fortunately for Peacock.
MLB’s new streaming ventures with Peacock and Apple TV+ received heavy attention going into the season. Fans and media weren’t sure of what to expect, while exclusive telecasts meant viewers had to sign up for these services to watch. Of the two thus far, MLB Sunday Leadoff feels like meeting up with an old friend while Friday Night Baseball has been more like going on a blind date.
To be fair, maybe too much was expected of Apple TV+ from the outset. A tech innovator streaming live sports for the first time would surely bring something new to a baseball telecast, maybe even reinvent parts of it. Instead, the game broadcasts — incorporating some who have never called a baseball game before — have felt like everyone involved is still trying to figure out what works best.
Meanwhile, Peacock just produced a solid baseball broadcast, sprinkling in elements that may have been familiar, but also felt fresh. Leaning on nostalgia doesn’t hurt, either. But there’s also less of an uphill climb by not trying so hard to be new and innovative. Comfort is a nice thing, especially on a Sunday morning.